March is now more than half over and with the arrival of daylight saving time, it looks like spring will truly arrive, sooner rather than later. The days certainly aren’t much longer than they were a week ago, but once our bodies adjust to the changing clock, it’s refreshing to have daylight after dinner. There’s not much we can do outside other than making mud pies, but it’s still enjoyable! I have just completed my 72nd orbit of the sun on spacecraft earth and have noticed that the annual journeys of this planet are speeding up noticeably. For those of us born this month, the mercurial climate of March affects much more than our Pisces nature in nature, as well as astrology.
This is the time of year when certain mammals become more conspicuous as they emerge from sleep or hibernation. Most of the content (facts) for this week’s column was provided by my friend and former St Lawrence County Cornell Co-op Extension Officer, Paul Heltzler, who now resides in Quebec. Guess Paul decided that Canton, New York didn’t have enough winter to suit him! His book “Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World” is available on Amazon.
Porcupines are the second largest rodent in North America, after beavers, and like beavers, they seem harmless and cute until one settles near you. Its English name derives from the Latin for “spicy pig”, but the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawks) call it anêntaks, which literally means “bark eater”. It’s a description of the animal, sure, but long ago it was a less than endearing epithet applied to their Algonquin neighbors. Historically, Algonquin territory encompassed what we now call the Adirondacks, a name derived from the Anêntaks. Unlike the Mohawks who have practiced sustainable agriculture for at least a thousand years, the Algonquins were hunter-gatherers. By choice or necessity, they sometimes ate the inner bark of pines, maples, elms and other trees. Eventually the Algonquin moved from the area to points north and east, but the bark-eating place name persisted.
Porcupines are covered in hair, interspersed with up to 30,000 hollow, barbed quills. This explains their cavalier attitude towards humans, dogs and even cars. Quills are not missiles – they are not launched at a predator, but will easily detach from their body. The barbed ends of quills are incredibly good at sticking to skin and other things. If not removed, the quills pierce the flesh and can be fatal. I know of a dog that died after its third encounter in a week with a local porcupine, which speaks to Darwinism.
If your dog should have the misfortune of getting “quills”, be very careful when taking him to the vet, as the quills are sharp at both ends. It’s not a good idea to let the suffering animal sit on your lap in the car. Most of the time the quills are flat but when confronted by a predator, a porcupine lifts them up and keeps its hindquarters against the threat. A porky can whip its eight to ten inch long tail from side to side, creating a protective beam around itself. Anglers, ferocious predators and one of the largest members of the weasel family, are quick enough to outflank a porcupine and kill it by repeatedly attacking the head without stinging.
In addition to eating the bark of trees, with a fondness for certain conifers, such as larch, often killing or disfiguring them as they did my favorite larch, they also like to chew almost anything salty to their liking. taste. This includes T-111 wood siding, car tires and automobile brake lines. I have two sheds at home made from this siding, both of which have the bottom two legs chewed off to such an extent that I can now stick my finger through them.
A “home remedy” to get the porcupine to leave you alone is to put a salt block near where the pig gnawed and hope it prefers the salt block to your coating. If so, moving the salt block further and further away from the structure may cause it to forget why it was chewing on your wood in the first place and leave it alone. They’re not the brightest creatures in the forest.
Years ago, I would have shot culprit quilly without a second thought, since I know exactly where its lair is, in a hollow tree on my property. After over 70 trips around the sun, I’ve mellowed now and find killing to be much less of a problem solver than before. It’s a shame that our world leaders of similar ages haven’t learned the compassion to realize this without the fuss.