by Barbara Walvoord
Last year, Eleanor and Richard Johnson and their family saw a porcupine in the big hole in our 250-year-old Addison’s Oak, on the east campus, directly west across the meadow from the community garden. Now, finally, Chuck Gillies has captured our porcupine in a photo.
Our porcupine does not hibernate in winter, but might have stayed “holed up” during particularly bad weather. Otherwise, it has ventured out to eat bark. I’m sure that none of our Lathrop creatures is more grateful for spring, with its abundance of soft leaves and skunk cabbage.
I wonder if there’s a baby down in that tree hole. After mating in the fall, porcupine moms will be giving birth about now–7 months later–to one pup. In case you were wondering, the baby’s quills are soft at birth (they harden after about an hour). The pup will begin foraging for its own food after just a few days (I guess it doesn’t take much maturity to find leaves), though it will stay with its mother for about 6 months.
If you should see our porcupine, you don’t have to stand back: contrary to popular myth, they can’t throw their quills. However, the quills easily detach when touched, and the attacker’s body heat makes the barbs expand, to become more deeply embedded.
We’re happy that our old oak tree was not cut down, that a branch fell off to make a hole, and that our land provides lots of foraging territory and lots of skunk cabbage.