HAVE A POINT TO MAKE
November 4, 2012
dwarf porcupine that lives in Brazilian rainforests south of the Amazon
River is a species I seldom talk, write, or even think about. Then again,
neither do scientists who study porcupines. An authoritative book on
porcupines states that nothing is known of their life in the wild
aside from the limited knowledge that these little porcupines have a
long prehensile tail that is useful for holding onto limbs as they climb
through the trees.
only one of the worlds 26 or more different kinds of porcupines,
some of which have been well studied by behaviorists and ecologists.
Porcupines: The Animal Answer Guide (Johns Hopkins University
Press; 2012; paperback, $24.95) by Uldis Roze provides a wealth of information
about this intriguing group of animals.
typical format for this outstanding series of books, more than 100 questions
on basic biological topics such as porcupine colors, behavior, reproduction,
and ecology are asked and answered. For example, Porcupine Behavior
includes such questions as Do porcupines bite? Do
porcupines play? and How fast can porcupines run?
are near the top of my list of animals with admirable character and
other fine qualities. They dont pick fights with other animals,
and they arent bullies. But they are not pushovers either. Porcupines
are usually the victors, as long as they stay away from highways. Porcupines
are slow-moving mammals. After all, whats the rush? Even if a
predator overtakes you, it will soon find it should have tried to eat
something else. According to Rozes book, North American porcupine
males will engage in combat with other males during the mating season
in the fall. A porcupine fight sounds like a dreadful event, with the
two contestants using their quills as well as their teeth. The loser
is often the one that gets pushed off a limb at the top of a tall tree,
a common arena for such fights. The savage teeth-biting among males
during combat is a conundrum to scientists who study them, because when
picked up by humans they almost never bite.
the biggest and smallest porcupines? The largest, the crested porcupines,
are found in the Old World, including Africa, Europe, and Asia, and
can weigh more than 50 pounds. All are terrestrial. The single porcupine
species found in the United States and Canada (and the most thoroughly
studied species) is the so-called North American porcupine. It will
travel overland but is very much at home in trees. Although this is
the largest porcupine species in the Western Hemisphere, few weigh in
at more than 20 pounds. The several species of dwarf porcupines of South
America are small creatures that may weigh only a couple of pounds as
the question what do porcupines eat? the author notes that
all species of porcupines are herbivores. Leaves and bark are staples
throughout the year, whereas buds and fruit may be focused on seasonally.
One dietary phenomenon among porcupines, a liking for sodium, can create
a problem both for humans and for porcupines. In areas where salt is
commonly used for snow and ice removal, many road kills occur when porcupines
go out on to highways to acquire sodium. On the other side of the ledger,
the adhesive materials used to make plywood are high in salt content.
Porcupines chew the wood to consume the sodium, behavior that is not
popular with people who have outdoor wooden structures. Electrical wiring
on the underside of northern vehicles has high sodium levels from being
coated with highway salt during winter snow removal. Salty wires, highly
desirable to a porcupine on a high-sodium diet, can take a beating from
the animals strong teeth.
question-and-answer book is full of interesting facts about these unusual
animals. But the last question in the book, what dont we
know about porcupines? makes the point that with porcupines, as
with other animals and plants, many of Mother Natures mysteries
remain just that - mysteries.
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