Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of April 7-13, 2018
Archeologists say that our human progenitors started out swinging through trees, but later came down to live on land. So our Lathrop trees don’t contain many humans (except the occasional grandchild). But our trees do contain lots of other creatures.
One of the animals in our trees is the porcupine, photographed here on the north campus by resident Joan Cenedella. For a porcupine, trees are home (they nest in tree cavities), dinner (they eat bark, buds, shoots, and leaves), and safety.Continue reading Who’s Climbing our Trees?→
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Jan. 13-19, 2018
Walking in the east campus woods recently, some friends and I came upon several trees gnawed like this one in the photo. After some debate and research (is it bear? termites? pileated woodpecker? Bigfoot?) we decided it’s porcupine. Just because the bark is up in a tree, no problem. Porcupines are great tree climbers.
After the last two weeks’ columns about coyotes and bobcats that eat poor little rabbits, perhaps it’s time to look at some pregnant vegetarians on our land.
Our porcupine–perhaps the one that Eleanor Johnson and her family saw in Addison’s Oak last summer–is a vegetarian. Mom has mated long ago–in late summer or early fall, when the male fought with other porcupines for her favors and performed an elaborate courtship dance (yes, dance), including spraying urine on her head. Eeeeeew.
Unlike our rabbits who gestate in a few weeks and our coyotes and bobcats who take a month or two, it takes seven months to make a porcupine baby. Our mom is giving birth about now to just one infant. (Ladies–in case you wondered, the quills are soft as the baby is being born; they harden shortly after birth.)
Our baby porcupine can forage for its own food within a few days after birth, though it will stay with its mother for about 6 months.
Well you thought this was going to be a column about an innocent little vegetarian, well protected against predators, no hunting, no blood, no guts. But in fact, mama porcupine does have to try to protect herself and her babies. Especially expert at attacking porcupines are fishers, which are members of the weasel family. They are elusive, but undoubtedly live here. Has anyone seen one on Lathrop land? Fishers attack porcupines with swift, darting bites to the head. When the porcupine is dead, they flip it over and start eating at the belly. Eeeeeew.
Last week, when I wrote about the old oak tree on the east campus across the field from the vegetable garden, several people asked me if something lived in the tree’s large hole, which quite obviously leads to a hollow in the trunk. I said, “I don’t know.”
Well, Eleanor Johnson’s daughter, who was visiting on Saturday, solved the mystery for us–a porcupine was sitting with its backside half out of the hole, enjoying the sun. When she approached, the porcupine scrambled back into the hole, leaving a few quills behind. Continue reading Old Oak Tree Mystery Solved→