Region III Quarterly

Volume 2 - No. 2

April, 1940


By William R. Supernaugh,
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The porcupine is found in nearly all the forested areas of the United States, and is probably seen by more people than is any other animal, with the exception of the small rodents. In spite of this, he probably has been studied less than other creatures. In some areas porcupines are protected by law, while in other sections people have been encouraged to kill them on sight. No other animal is so well equipped by nature for defense against his animal enemies, and he has a sublime trust in that protection. The entire upper part of the body is covered by quills, nearly as thick as the hair. The quills range from one-quarter of an inch to two inches in length; they are very sharp at the end and are covered behind the points with hundreds of tiny barbs. These barbs make the quills difficult to extract and when broken off, they will work their way entirely through the flesh. Stories told about the porcupine "throwing his quills" are not true. This fiction results from a person being struck by Porky's tail, which is switched with lightning-like suddenness -- and woe to anything in its way.

Due to his natural protection, the porcupine's mental qualities have not been developed. He is perhaps the dullest of all wild animals. When attacked he will not run, but will just lie flat with his nose between his front feet, trusting in the quills to do the rest -- and this is usually plenty. The only animals that have solved the problem of safe attack are the fisher and the fox. These will dive under the porcupine to slash at his unprotected abdomen. Although the porcupine is primarily a vegetarian, he will go to almost any extreme and face any danger to get salt. Many an inexperienced camper has found this out to his sorrow, in discovering that his saddle or tool handles had been gnawed during the night. On one occasion when I was camping near timberline, a porcupine walked across my bed. That was the one time that I thought there were elephants in the high country, for you can imagine a lot of things when awakened from a sound sleep by about fifty pounds of porcupine.


The porcupine has come in for much criticism because during heavy winters he is forced into the trees, and at times girdles them to the extent of killing them. In open seasons he will eat almost any sort of vegetable matter but the main diet in winter is bark. It may be that now and them he will kill a tree of commercial value, but it has been my observation that he will seek the small, heavier growth in the forests.

In Canada the government protects porcupines. In some districts of this country an unwritten law protects them, so that people lost in the weeds may obtain food. A porcupine can be killed with a stick, but he doesn't provide a very palatable dish.

Recently a resident down here said he had found a porcupine on the edge of Ajo. This was over 100 miles from the known range, but he had photographs to prove it, so my problem now is to find out whether there are porcupines native to this area, or if that one just wandered down here to pose for a few pictures.

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Date: 17-Nov-2005