• Outdoor Radio: Peering Into A Porcupine Den

    The porcupine hides its head and shows sharp quills in the back of the den when we peer into the spacious winter den. / @ K.P. McFarland

    VCE biologists Kent McFarland, Sara Zahendra and Steve Faccio ventured into the woods on a blustery day to see a porcupine den that was big enough for a human to fit in – but not someplace you’d want to venture! Porcupines are armed with 30,000 sharp quills that, as Kent demonstrates, are hard to pull out.  Join them on their prickly adventure.

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    Sara Zahendra is all smiles after partially crawling into the den to see the porcupine. /© K.P. McFarland

    A closeup of a quill in the back of Kent McFarland’s hand to show how difficult it is to pull out. / © K.P. McFarland

    Scat was piled several feet deep at the den entrance and inside. Since the resident mostly eats woody material, it breaks apart like sawdust. /© K.P. McFarland

    Kent, Sara, and Steve stand beside a Sugar Maple tree near the den that the porcupine stripped for food.

    Closeup showing the chewing pattern of the porcupine on a tree. / © K.P. McFarland

    Closeup of a needle. / © K.P. McFarland

    Outdoor Radio is a monthly feature produced in collaboration with Vermont Public Radio with support from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation. The program is produced by Vermont Public Radio chief audio engineer Chris Albertine.

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    Comments (5)

    1. jerryspass says:

      Nice photos Kent…………..ouch!

    2. caernarvoncat says:

      Excellently informative pictures in your porcupine study.  It might be of incidental use to know of the resilience of massed porcupine quills.  I once brought an injured one to Tufts wildlife clinic.  It had a tire track across its back, but was ready for release two weeks later.                                                                                                                Peter Wackell

    3. Jenny Garber says:

      Enjoyed the porcupine program!
      My experience with porcupines has been pulling their quills from not so bright dogs. (Including one of my own!). I’m a veterinarian.
      They can be easy to miss in a thick coated dog and will sometimes migrate under the skin. I found one in a shoulder joint and a colleague found 1 in the heart. Rare but weird!
      Also managed to poke myself in the hand with a quill while working and ended up with an odd quarter size purple lesion that stayed around for 6-8 wks……..
      I was wondering how other predators can make a meal of a porcupine without hundreds of quills.

      • Thanks Jenny. Predators either scavenge roadkill (likely most often way) or some can take a live animal. Predators that take them live, like Fisher, often attack from the front. They dart in and bite the face repeatedly (no or few quills there). They then flip them over and feed belly inward (again, no quills on belly). The porcupine tries to keep face hidden against something with back and tail facing out to protect themselves. The swing the tail around too, which is well armed. I am sure predators still get quilled. How they deal with that, I don’t know. I do know sometimes they don’t. Someone once sent me photos of dead fisher they found, filled with quills in its face.

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