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Barbara Damrosch

 home’s landscaping

Updating your home’s landscaping is a great way to increase the value of your property and create outdoor spaces for relaxing and entertaining. Unique ideas here will make your garden fit for a king

Landscape design is an independent profession and a design and art tradition, practised by landscape designers, combining nature and culture. In contemporary practice, landscape design bridges the space between landscape architecture and garden design.

Porcupine Evidence of Intrusion

Porcupine evidence of intrusion is based for the most part on their fondness of trees and forested areas as their main course of any meal. This affinity can cause considerable damage to gardens and landscapes. Please see below for some methods to help you determine if you have a porcupine feeding and living on your property.

Porcupine Evidence of Intrusion- Tracks

Evidence of porcupine intrusion can most certainly be the presentation of their foot prints. The tracks of the porcupine will have a rough look because of their pebble textured paws. The front paws have four (4) toes and the back paws have five (5) toes. The path will show tail drags in between as shown in the image below. Look for oval shaped tracks at the base of trees or other vegetation that you think is being damaged by the animals.

Porcupine Evidence of Intrusion-Scat

Another excellent form of evidence to determine if a porcupine is the cause of your landscaping problems is finding their scat. Porcupine scat looks like small pellets. Look for scat around the base of trees where you have found damage.

Porcupine Evidence of Intrusion-Gnawing

Those ever growing incisors keep porcupines chewing and even on the some things that you might least expect. Porcupines have a salt craving unmatched by any mammal. This leads them to gnaw on salt covered items. Look for evidence of chewing on car tires in the winter when road salt is in use, and on wooden hand tools such as axes that have salt residue from the person who last used it.

Porcupine Evidence of Intrusion-Tree Damage

The most definite sign that porcupines are the culprits to your tree damage is in how they chew. Look for large portions of bark stripped from trees. Porcupines often clip smaller twigs and branches in their quest for that sweet cambium beneath the bark. Look for neatly clipped twigs and branches at the base of these same bark stripped trees.

Porcupine Evidence of Intrusion-Dogs with Quills

There’s no doubt that dogs are some of the most curious animals on earth, and may not take no for an answer when they come across a porcupine. They are often victims of a scared porcupine and wind up with snout full of quills; a sure sign of porcupine evidence of intrusion.

Porcupines can cause considerable damage to landscapes by stripping the bark from trees. These signs coupled with the other methods listed above should help you in looking for porcupine evidence of intrusion.

Porcupine Interesting Facts

Porcupine interesting facts are abundantly available. As some of nature’s most interesting looking creatures, there has been much research on their life cycle and, of course, the quills that cover their bodies. Please take a moment to enjoy some of these fascinating details about the porcupine.

  • Porcupines are also called hedgehogs, quill pigs or quillers.
  • Porcupines have are special ability to retain nitrogen from their food and not allow it to pass through. This is what allows them to survive in the winter on a steady diet bark. They have even been likened to deer and other ruminant animals because of this trait.
  • Porcupines constantly lose weight in the winter. As a matter of fact, researchers estimate that they lose nearly 30% of the body weight though the colder months.
  • Porcupines in the Rockies carry with them 50 plus wood ticks that can carry the Colorado Tick Virus. They rarely spread the virus because only adult ticks live on the porcupines and adults do not carry the virus.
  • The Porcupine quills are actually a third type of hair found on the animal. They also have course guard hairs and a dense, bristly undercoat.
  • Native Americans used the quills of the porcupines for hair brushes and decorations.
  • The quills have a greasy type coating on them that allows for easier penetration into an attacker! The quill’s coating is much slicker during the summer when their diet is more nutrient rich.
  • The quills have an antibiotic property just in case it is the porcupine that gets stuck.
  • Porcupines have been noted as falling out of trees quite often and unfortunately, have occasionally been impaled by their own quills.
  • Porcupines have about 30,000 quills that can be up to five (5) inches long.
  • Newborn porcupines weigh more than grizzly bear cubs do at birth.
  • Porcupines mate in the fall and give birth in the spring. This means that they have the longest gestation period of any rodent.
  • A baby porcupine is called a porcupette.
  • Porcupines are waddling creatures but may actually erupt into a gallop when frightened.
  • Porcupines are not listed as threatened or endangered but have been eradicated from parts of the United States. They are in danger of becoming extinct in Northern Michigan and Northern Mexico due to an enhance population of fishers who prey upon the porcupines.
  • Porcupines are nocturnal. This helps them take advantage of the added nutrients available through the overnight process of plant metabolism.

Porcupine Diet

Porcupine diet is based solely on plants and this can mean big trouble for landscaping plants and backyard gardens.

Porcupine Diet-Food

As plant eaters, the porcupine diet has great diversity, yet the animal is very much a slave to the seasonal changes in the food supply in the area in which they. In the spring, summer and fall all is well with respect to food supply. They will feed on the buds of trees such as the sugar maple in the spring. Conversely, once the sugar maples leaf out, the porcupine moves onto other fare due to the fact that the leaves contain tannin, a substance that is toxic to the porcupine diet. They move onto the cambium layers under the bark of beech, basswoods and aspens and the leaves of trees that contain lower levels of tannin such as the ash trees.

In the fall feeding switches over to acorns and pine nuts they gather from high up in the trees.

In the winter, porcupines are more limited and forced to eat more bark. They will partake in the bark of sugar maples, ponderosa pines, and hemlocks as well as pine needles.

In your yard they will quite happily feed on raspberry canes, strawberry patches, brussel sprouts, cabbages, geraniums and roses, carrots, potatoes and virtually all root vegetables, from the top down! Ornamental grasses are no match for the appetite of the porcupines either. Neither are flowering herbs and apples.

Porcupine Diet-Physical Attributes

While porcupines vary in many ways from the other members of the rodent family, they have one very important trait in common; ever growing incisors. These large front teeth make easy eating for the porcupine diet in the winter. This includes tree bark and branches, and even canoe paddles and axe handles!

Porcupine Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

The porcupine diet does cause some issues for humans. The herbivore diet of the animals leaves a distinct and sometimes unrivaled craving for salt. And since potato chips and French fries are not available to the animals in the wild, they have found some curious ways of soothing that craving. Many homeowners have awakened to find their car tires, that have road salt on them, have been chewed leaving a very expensive wake up call! Salt cravings lead the animals to eat anything made of plywood that has salt residues from us too including canoe paddles, axe handles and horse saddles!

Experts also indicate that their gnawing on trees leads to such uneven growth that the end use timber is too distorted to harvest causing a negative impact on the timber industry. The damage inflicted to the trees by their bark chewing allows for the trees to become easy prey for attack from birds and insects, and most seriously, diseases.

For the home gardener a hungry porcupine can lead to the loss of entire strawberry patches and rows, eating their leaves over the fruit. Raspberry canes are often dwarfed making harvesting quarts of juicy berries improbable.

It is indeed the trees that are deformed and left vulnerable to disease and infestation that is by far the most detrimental factor of the porcupine diet.

Porcupine Habitat

Porcupine habitat is as varied as the climates that exist in the North American continent. Porcupines are most happy in forested areas no matter where they live.

Porcupine Habitat-Range

The North American porcupine is found throughout the majority of the Canada and United States and into Mexico. They are quite common in Alaska and east and south though Canada. In the US they are found throughout the western states and as far east as the Great Lakes states. While they used to be found in the south eastern portions of the US, they no longer live in that habitat.

The table below shows the range of all of the species of porcupine found worldwide.
Porcupine Habitat-NestsOn the home front the porcupine has been recorded as extended its habitat about 15 miles, but normally stays pretty close to home. In fact, the animals normally only occupy an area of one (1) to two (2) miles and this is cut dramatically in the winter when they spend their time in only a few close trees. As with most animals, the males will stray the furthest away from home in search of a mate.

Porcupines are both arboreal and ground habitat animals and their nests, called dens, can be located in either habitat. Trees with thick cover such as hemlocks are highly prized for den sites, especially in the eastern portions of their range but any tree with sufficient cover will do. Hollowed out logs or tree trunks and crevices in rocks often make the list of den sites chosen for shelter and warmth. Thick brush and cave sites will also serve as a fine home for the porcupine.

From the frozen tundra of northern Canada through the desert southwest of the United States, to the warm, near tropical heat of northern Mexico, North America has every kind of porcupine habitat.

Porcupine Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Porcupines can be very real detriment to domestic pets and farm animals. Dogs are often the most affected when their curiosity leads them to sniff out and nuzzle up to a porcupine. This more often than not leads to a very painful trip to the vet not to mention a potentially expensive one for the owner.

Porcupines have proven beneficial in many ways for humans. While not occurring as often as in the days when the country was being settled, porcupines provide an easy hunt for humans. Other uses for the porcupines by humans include using the quills for decoration and even as a hairbrush. Their bristly hair is used currently in fly fishing lures. Perhaps the most important benefit of all to us is the great pleasure gained in watching the animals on film and in the wild as one of the most interesting animals in nature, the porcupine.

Porcupine Behavior

Porcupines are nocturnal animals that do not hibernate. For the most part, they spend their days sleeping and their nights looking for food. However, it is not too unusual to spot one during the day. They are active year round but often hide out in their dens during bad weather.

Porcupines are excellent climbers and swimmers. Their swimming prowess is attributed by some researchers to those air-filled quills atop their fur. It is those same quills that help them in crossing lakes and streams that keep them nearly predator free.

Indeed there are only a few animals brave enough to mess with the porcupine; these include the larger predators such as mountain lions, wolves and bobcats. Other predators include the lynx, fox and great horned owls. But the most effective predator is the fisher, a small wolverine like mammal that has figured out how to flip the porcupines over without getting hit with a snout full of quills. Other animals aren’t so lucky.

Researchers have noted that attacking with those quills is a last resort. The porcupine’s very first line of defense is climbing a tree. If this is not possible the animal raises its quills and begins to chatter its teeth to try to scare away the enemy, and/or they will emit a foul smelling substance to deter the animal, too. This substance comes from a gland, called the rosette, located just above the tail.

Contrary to what some believe the porcupine cannot shoot its quills out from its body. It instead swings its quill covered tail at the would-be attacker. The animal will dip its head between its legs and turn its back toward the predator. Once the enemy is close enough the porcupine lashes his tail. If the quills come into contact with the predator they quickly release from the porcupine and stick into the animal’s skin. The barbed quills, which present with spines facing opposite the pointy ends, are very hard to get out. In fact, the body heat from the predator actually causes the quills to swell inside their skin making removal even more difficult. And while they rarely cause infection (they carry a type of antibiotic compound) a poorly located quill has been blamed for predator animals starving to death because they cannot open their mouths.

Those bristly undersides are helpful to the animal, too. While they don’t assist in defense directly, the bristly fur is used to help the animal from falling out of trees.

On the family side of things, porcupines, unlike most other rodents, have only one (1) baby at a time. Mating season occurs during the late summer. The animals are quite vocal during mating season. The males perform a fairly complicated gestation dance for the females which end with the male spraying a stream of urine over her head. Once the male is successful in attracting a female for mating gestation will last seven (7) months. The babies are born with their eyes open and a body full of quills-softened quills. The quills harden a few hours after the birth. The babies, or pocupettes, wean after only one (1) week and are much more active than the adults. Young porcupines are off on their own at the end of six (6) months.

Porcupines are very vocal animals and make a variety of sounds including the tooth chattering mentioned above, as well as coughing and moaning and at some times even wailing and shrieking.

Porcupine Physical Appearance

The porcupine is one of the most recognizable creatures in the world. It has the unique distinction of having barbed quills atop a body the size of a small dog. The quills are actually hairs with barbed tips that cover all but the belly side of the animal. Longer quills are found near the rear of the animal with the quills on its cheek the shortest. The porcupine’s quills lie flat on the animal unless threatened.

The undersides of the animal do not have quills and instead is covered with bristle like fur including the muzzle, belly and tail.

To look at a porcupine you will note a black to brownish animal in the eastern portions of its range and a more yellow animal in the west. The animal measures about thirty (30) inches long and weighs in anywhere from ten (10) to twenty (20) pounds.

They stand on short stocky legs on top of some fairly unique feet. The front feet have four (4) clawed toes, the rear feet have five clawed toes, and they small, textured knobs on the pads of each foot.

Porcupine Natural History

There are actually four (4) separate species of porcupine in the world, with only one (1), the North American Porcupine, found north of the Rio Grande. The other species, the prehensile tailed, stump tailed, and hairy porcupines are found in Central and South America.

North American Porcupine

Scientific Name: Erethizon dorsatum
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Erethizontidae
Genus: Erethizon
Species: dorsatum

Porcupines are some of the most interesting looking rodents on the planet. This is no doubt a consequence of those 30,000 pointed quills that cover their bodies! While this mammal is found mainly in forested areas, when their homes overlap with ours they can cause quite a stir. You will most certainly want to know if you have porcupines in your yard and gardens.

Cultivating Garden Style

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