While leading expeditions in Presque Isle County, Michigan recently, we encountered quite a few species of mammals. Not the least of which was the North American porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum. Everyone knows what a porcupine is, but not too many will get as up close and personal with the prickly beasts as we're about to.
While heading back to NettieBay Lodge in the van one evening, shortly after dusk, we spied a porcupine shuffling across the road. STOP! I shouted, and leapt from the vehicle for a better look. Porkies aren't going to win any ribbons in the 40 yard dash, and we quickly moved in on the lumbering rodent. While porcupines are quite low key and not intimidated by much, we were a little over the top for this one, and it headed for the nearest balsam fir.
Rudy was smart enough to quickly back off and minimize his damage. Some of the fiercer hunting dogs don't, and really get a faceful of spines. Porcupine quills are nothing to trifle with. The thick, hollow spines are retrorsely barbed, or beset with hooks that point backwards. This means the quills will slide into flesh with ease, but you'll have a painful time trying to pull them back out. A big porcupine might have 30,000 quills, so they've got a lot of armament to defend themselves with.
Porcupines are mild-mannered and have to be pushed hard before they deploy their quills. If an animal is dumb enough to invade one's space, the porky will try and lash it with its tail, and a strike will release a barrage of the easily detached spines. Amazingly, there are at least two species of predators that are adept at flipping and gutting porcupines, the fisher and wolverine.
The other problem with looking inside the den is that jumbo pile of scat. You'd essentially have to be laying in it on your back, and while I'll go to great lengths for you, the reader, I won't go that far. So, I turned my camera's flash on, and stuck the trusty old Panasonic right into the tree, pointed upward, and pulled the trigger. The result, as seen above, is a like a virtual colonoscopy of the den tree. As you can see, the hollowed out trunk extends up for some distance, but in reviewing the photos on my camera's view finder in the field, we could see no evidence of the porcupine.
This was the other porcupine den tree that we saw. The resident of this tree, quite wisely, had posted a No Trespassing sign. I imagine his neighbor will be tacking one up soon.