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December 15, 2017
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A prickly misperception

I chanced upon this porcupine waddling along a trail in Pike County, PA. My dogs were leashed, and all emerged from the encounter unscathed. In truth, porcupines are passive woodland creatures that pose no threat unless they are bitten. This one attempted to hide among ferns as I pestered it for pictures.
TRR photos by Sandy Long

October 19, 2016

“Myths and misunderstandings abound in nature and can lead to undesirable outcomes.”

I wrote that sentence in a recent River Talk column to bring awareness to the confusion many people have about ragweed, goldenrod and allergies. (Ragweed, not goldenrod, is causing your respiratory symptoms:

I employ it again to draw attention to another very common misperception about porcupines—the erroneous belief that this mostly harmless mammal can throw its quills, thereby impaling the hapless woodland wanderer with painful barbed needles that will lead to a trip to the local emergency room. The truth is—that’s just not true.

Porcupines—or quill pigs—are slow-moving mammals that sport a coat of needle-like spines or quills, which help to protect them from predators. They are actually rodents, with no relationship to pigs. They are North America’s second largest rodent (beavers are the first), weighing between nine to 15 pounds on average.

Porcupines are good climbers, and will often scale a tree to escape potential harm. They are vegetarians, and make a variety of interesting vocalizations ranging from low grunts to screeches to whining noises. Predators of porcupines—fishers, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and some owls—take advantage of the fact that porcupines have no quills on their furred undersides. Porcupine quills range between one and four inches long and have hundreds of barbs along their tips.

Breeding in the Upper Delaware River region takes place from September into November. Normally, a single fully furred “pup” or “porcupette” is born in April, May, or June. Its eyes are open; it weighs roughly a pound, and can climb trees and eat solid food within a few days, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.