Wildlife Corner: Our prickly friends in the trees

By Mike Flunker, Editor-in-Chief

If you’re like me and you leave your tools outside, you may receive an unwanted visitor looking for the salts from the sweat that has soaked into the wooden handles.

While coming outside to find a porcupine eating your shovel can be frustrating, I assure you that these prickly friends are important to our ecosystem. With a steady diet of bark, leaves, fruits, bulbs, and roots, the North American porcupine is the third largest rodent in the Western Hemisphere.

Rodents are characterized by their teeth, which never stop growing. Porcupine teeth get their distinctive red-orange color from the iron-oxide present in their enamel. This gives them some extra protection when they spend their days gnawing on trees.

Porcupines around the world are split into two groups, Old World and New World porcupines. These two families are not even particularly closely related. They actually evolved their quills separately! This process is called convergent evolution, where two species evolve similar traits apart from one another.

New World porcupines, those that live in the Western Hemisphere, have microscopic barbs on their quills. This makes them painful to remove. Despite popular belief, porcupines cannot throw their quills. The quills sit loosely in the porcupine’s skin and stick quite easily into the flesh of any attacker.

These clumsy looking animals are excellent climbers, and vital to maintaining the health of the forest and its flora.

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