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Meet North American Porcupine

This recognizable rodent is surrounded by myth and stories. We all know someone who had a dog/porcupine run in with the dog often faring worse for the encounter. Porcupines are the second largest rodent in North America, with the North American beaver. Weighing between 15 and 25 pounds, these animals are distinctive although rarely seen in the wild. Porcupines tend to be most active at dusk and night time and prefer to spend most of their time in trees.

Porcupines create a den, often in hollowed out downed trees, old animal burrows, under buildings or within rocky ledges. They stay there most of the day and venture forth at night to eat bark, berries, grubs, leaves and leaf buds. They mate in the fall and have one of the longest gestation periods of any mammal in North America, waiting 200 days to give birth to one baby.

While many people immediately associate porcupines with their quills as a defense, the porcupine actually has several defenses it employs before using it's quills. One thing porcupines do not do it run, they have little reason to run from anything. They have a strong odor they employ to notify possible attackers that they are in the area. Many people liken the smell to old socks or body order. If that is not enough to deter a curious dog or person, they will clack their teeth in an audible warning. If that is still not enough, the porcupine will turn it's back and flex its quills using surface muscles close to the skin to display it's last defense. Porcupines do not 'throw' their quills but they can brandish them quite menacingly. Should a curious dog or person get too close and actually touch the animal, the quills can puncture skin and with backwards barbs on each quill, they stay in. The unlucky person or pet is left with an incredibly painful set or quills embedded in their skin.

While people can usually read those warnings and don't tend to touch the animals, pets, especially dogs, seem to ignore them and try to sniff or even bite porcupines. That leads to pets needing to see a vet. Sometimes, if you catch the dog quickly and it doesn't have many quills embedded, you can remove them yourself. But often, an involved porcupine-dog encounter means you're in for a visit to your local veterinarian.


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