Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Porcupine

By L. Jonas
(Printed in a Montana newspaper in the early 1960s)

The blunt-nosed "quill pig" could hardly be mistaken for an "eager beaver." He moves rather aimlessly from tree to tree, and finally selects one which seems just the same as all the others.

When there is snow on the limbs to furnish drink for him, he is content to perch high above ground for weeks. He apparently is sensitive to temperature, as he seeks cover in caves or beaver holes when the temperature drops past 30 below zero.

His preferred food is the bark from all species of pine, but he will accept spruce, cottonwood or willow bark, and feeds willingly in a handy alfalfa field or corn patch, and also eats water plants.

His diet may include such delicacies as axe handles, plywood signs, aluminum pans, automobile tires and dynamite-anything, in short, which tastes even slightly of salt (Ed note: they also love rosebushes!).

Tasty Trees

Occasionally Porkie girdles young pines. Then the sugars, which are produced by the chlorophyll of the needles, are blocked above the scar by hardened pitch. This makes the area above old scars very tasty to him, as well as to squirrels and mice.

One porcupine is estimated to destroy as much as $50 worth of timber a year. In this respect, of course, he is a poor second when compared to careless hunters, with their cigarettes.

Cattle and horses sometimes attempt to investigate this creature at close range. Not fond of being handled (or nosed), Porkie wards off such unwelcome attention with a swift tail and erected body spines.

Only the fisher and big cats seem able to kill him with impunity, and they are his only serious enemies among the forest dwellers. When these predators are removed by trapping or poison, the numbers of porcupines increase greatly, and they become a threat to timber production.

One winter in Jackson Hole, from November till April, I shot 19 porcupines, in order to relieve the pressure on the pines and spruce in our area. Montana forestry officials have imported fishers to release in the north-western part of the state, to control the porcupines there.

Porcupine Meat

Woodsmen find porcupine meat a welcome change from the steady diet of venison, especially if Porkie has had access to alfalfa hay, or green water plants. If he has lived in deep timber, and eaten nothing but spruce bark, he tastes much like the tree itself, but he is still far from inedible, especially if the eater has been travelling on snowshoes all day long.

1 comment:

  1. As we are having venison for dinner this evening, I can most assuridly say, I shant tire of venison in hopes of a fat porcupine even if facing venison 7 nights a week! ;~P
    Darling picture!