Otherwise known as the Porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, these prickly rodents are as adorable as they are sharp. Porcupines eat bark and can be found in treetops (and crossing roads), consuming whatever nutrients from the tree cambium that they can and avoiding most predators with their barbed quills and often hard-to-reach location. The fisher, however, is one of the porcupine’s most successful natural predators due to their ability to knock porcupines from trees and kill them from impact or from gashing their bellies from underneath. During the winter, porcupines do not hibernate but instead spend time sleeping in dens, often with other porcupines despite their typical solitary nature.

While not particularly common to see in the wild within the dense woods of Maine, their signs are easy to identify. During a walk to a mountaintop in Waldo County, Maine on the Winter Solstice, I encountered the clearest signs of porcupines (short of seeing one) I’ve ever seen.

Fresh porcupine chew scars
Fresh porcupine chew scars
Porcupine tracks
Porcupine tracks
Porcupine den--note the frost collecting on the rock where it/they have been breathing!
Porcupine den–note the frost collecting on the rock where it/they have been breathing!

(By the way, porcupines cannot shoot their quills as many people think. They just fall off easily when touched.)

For more information about porcupines, check out these resources:

National Geographic: Porcupine

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: North American Porcupine

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