Pins & Needles

Porcupine2 HartMt May1982

Quills of North American porcupine

Have you been pining away wishing you knew more about porcupines? Well today is your lucky day! Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the North American porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, but were afraid to ask.

Range: The North American porcupine ranges throughout most of Canada and the western United States south to Mexico. They also live in the northern Great Lakes and northeastern United States regions.

Identification & unique characteristics: North American porcupines are a large rodent with black to brownish-yellow fur and distinct quills that cover most of their bodies. They range in weight from 11 to 30 pounds. They are 24 to 36 inches in length. They are excellent climbers with short strong legs, long claws, and hairless soles on their feet. They have a small head and rounded ears. Porcupines can be covered with as many as 30,000 quills. The quills are solid at the base and tip but have a sort of spongy texture in the middle. They are barbed at the tip and used for defense. Quills are not thrown at another animal. Porcupines raise their quills, release a nasty scent, and lash out with their tail if an animal approaches too closely. The porcupine releases quills that become embedded in the skin and expand with body heat. Quills that hit a sensitive area may cause death. Porcupines are very vocal. Their calls include a variety of moans, grunts, coughs, wails, whines, shrieks, and tooth-clicking. Vocalizations and scents are used to attract mates. They have poor vision but a good sense of smell.

North American porcupine at Hart Mountain National Antelope Range, OR

North American porcupine at Hart Mountain National Antelope Range, OR

Behavior & life history: Porcupines are usually a solitary animal that is mostly nocturnal. They occasionally den with others in winter months. They do not hibernate. Dens are made in caves and decaying hollow logs and trees. Both male and female porcupines defend a territory, though males do so more actively. Mating occurs in October and November. Males fight over females and display their “weaponry” on their backs and tails. An elaborate mating dance is performed for the females. Gestation last seven months and the young “porcupettes” are born with soft quills. The quills harden in about an hour. North American porcupines usually have a single porcupette. Young porcupines begin to forage when they are just a couple of days old. They stay with their mother for about five months. Porcupines are herbivores and they feed on leaves, twigs, buds, fruit, nuts, and bark. Their herbivorous diet makes them crave salt so they sometimes chew on the handles of human tools and structures. They also eat de-icing salt deposits on roads. Predators include mountain lions, lynx, bobcat, coyote, wolves, wolverines, fishers, and great horned owls. Fishers use hunting techniques that minimize their chances of getting poked by the quills. Porcupines are long-lived mammals and can live up to 18 years in the wild and 23 years in captivity.

North American porcupine at High Desert Museum, OR

North American porcupine at High Desert Museum, OR

Habitat needs: Porcupines live in many different habitats from sea level to high elevation. They live in deciduous and coniferous forests, open tundra, and desert environments.

Status & conservation: North American porcupine population levels are stable in most of their range but localized populations have been affected by several factors. Higher populations of predators, such as fishers and mountain lions, have caused lower porcupine numbers. Changes in logging management practices and pest infestations may affect their food source. Occasionally this animal will be hit by vehicles when it is trying to cross a road. In the past they were poisoned due to their habit of foraging on crops such as trees and corn.

Interesting facts: Native Americans incorporated the porcupine into their mythology. Tribes associated the animal with traits such as cautiousness, humility, modesty, and luck. Porcupines were used as a food source and their quills were used as decorations on clothing and other items. Lakota women would throw a blanket over a surprised porcupine and retrieve the quills it had released into the blanket to use in their quillwork.

Flocking to Malheur

 

Ross's Geese, Chen rossii

Ross’s Geese, Chen rossii (Snow geese were in some of these flocks)

Flocks alighting
Optics focusing

American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus

American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus

Nature’s fireworks on display
Exploding in a timeless rhythm

Say's Phoebe, Sayornis saya

Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya

Wings fluttering
Voices trumpeting

Malheur Birdwatchers

Malheur Birdwatchers

Welcoming visitors to share
In a celebration of Spring

 

Happy Bday Newberry!

Volcanoe

Maybe Newberry National Volcanic Monument can light its own candles for its 25th birthday celebration. It’s young as a monument and is also young in geological terms.

Big Obsidian Flow

Big Obsidian Flow

Big Obsidian Flow

Mordor??

The amazing, and appropriately named, Big Obsidian Flow feature was formed a mere 1,300 years ago. You can walk up a trail that winds through a massive mountain of sparkling obsidian. When I say massive I mean MASSIVE – 380 million cubic yards! From a distance, the landscapes appear to be a real life version of Mordor. Up close, the shimmering reflections all around you are dazzling.

If you are at the Monument on a clear day, you might want to drive up Paulina Peak. When the Newberry volcano erupted 7,000 years ago, it collapsed and formed a caldera. Paulina Peak is what is left of the volcanic peak. It is 7,983 feet tall but was likely 500-1,000 feet higher before the eruption. If the weather cooperates, you will get a glimpse of peaks in Washington state and California from its summit.

Paulina Peak

Looking West from Paulina Peak

Be forewarned that the road up is “primitive.” In this case, primitive means that parts of the road consist of bone-jarring washboard. The view from the top is worth it though.

From the top of Paulina Peak you get a great view of Paulina Lake and Twin Lake. These two lakes formed in the caldera created after the Newberry volcano erupted. Hot springs are present at both of these lakes. There are plenty of places to camp nearby. If you’re into fishing, the lakes have a plentiful supply of kokanee, brown trout, rainbow trout, and Atlantic salmon.

Snowshoe and ski tracks at Ten Mile Sno-Park

Snowshoe and ski tracks at Ten Mile Sno-Park

The road into this area is closed during winter near the Ten Mile Sno-Park but there are a lot groomed trails for winter activities. I went snowshoeing there on February 20 for the Winter Recreation Celebration. The Discover Your Forest group once again hosted free guided walks. Our group was small but there was a lot to see there. It’s a much different habitat than Mt. Bachelor. There were snowmobiles using some of the trails but the cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails had light usage.

Winter sights near Paulina Lake

Winter sights near Paulina Lake

The last big events planned around the 25th birthday celebration of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument occur between June 30 – July 4th. There will be a re-dedication of the Monument. On July 4th there will be a fireworks display in La Pine. It will celebrate the 10th anniversary of La Pine, the 30th year of the Frontier Days celebration, and the 100th anniversary of Deschutes County.

I have covered parts of the Monument in past posts. See Lava Lands Visitor Center , Lava Butte , and the Lava Cast Forest .