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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Porcupines
a source of thorny problems

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

At a time when America is struggling with the mind-numbing complexities of tax preparation and unknown rules of a massive health care plan, we at the Trew Ranch are having porcupine problems.

Yes, here in the supposedly treeless plains where most trees are planted and watered by hand in order to have shade or fruit, the many-needled porcupine is causing damage.

The porcupine - Erethizon Dorsatum in Latin - is fast becoming a continual pest.

This docile herbivore eats twigs, leaves and green plants like skunk cabbage and clover in the spring, summertime and fall. In wintertime, however, it eats the tender bark off your favorite peach, pear, cottonwood or apricot tree, leaving limbs or trunks bare to the wood. The exposed part dies the next spring, leaving an ugly or dead tree.

This uninvited nocturnal guest is sneaky. It is not aggressive and will attack only if threatened. Its only defense is an estimated 30,000 needle-like quills growing on its outer skin.

The animal will make a den in holes in the ground, hollow trees and decaying logs.

It does not hibernate, and is a good swimmer, tree climber and a very elusive rodent.

Down through the years, I have had to remove porcupine quills from dogs, cats, hogs, horses, cattle, automobile tires and fellow humans. Once imbedded, body heat makes the quill swell and difficult to pull out. I've heard cutting the ends off the needles, thus eliminating suction, helps. I couldn't tell any difference when I tried the option.

Science states the porcupine is the only North American animal with quills. The quills are actually modified hairs with a sharp point. It's not true that they can "throw quills," but they can slap their tail in defense, leaving their victim punctured and in pain.

If they quill themselves by accident, the points have their own antibiotic to prevent infection to the host.

Porcupine quills are the oldest form of Native American embroidery used as decorations for clothing, knife scabbards and pocket articles. They can be dyed, sewn on skin or cloth, and designed in a most attractive fashion. Examples are shown in many Native American exhibits.

Porcupines are neither varmints nor vermin. They don't compete with livestock for forage or destroy crops.

They usually don't circle a tree completely, but can cause severe damage especially to young and tender saplings.

Thankfully, they usually have only one offspring and seldom become numerous in one locality.

All domestic and most wild animals remember their one experience with a porcupine and give it a wide margin the next time around.

Though I always try to leave Mother Nature alone, I do eliminate rattlesnakes and porcupines when I have the chance.

For those who say, "In this modern world, anything is possible," I suggest trying to milk a porcupine or dribble a football. I will say I have great admiration for those porcupines who wish to reproduce.

June 29 , 2010 Column Delbert Trew
More "It's All Trew"
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.

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This page last modified: June 29, 2010