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Porcupine on Snow (Yellowstone N.P.)

Pebble Creek campground, Yellowstone National Park

While skiing in Yellowstone National Park, we observed a rather large North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) near Pebble Creek campground. Its Latin name means “quill pig.” This porcupine was walking across the deep snow.

Porcupines are considered rodents (a rodentian mammals) and have a coat of sharp spines, or quills, that protect against predators. Some predators will attempt to attack the porcupine from the head or belly to avoid the dangerous quills. Porcupines cannot launch or shoot quills (like an arrow). Instead, these hollow quills detach easily when touched or attacked. Quills have sharp tips with barbs on them that expand when they enter the warmth of another animal’s skin. Over time, the quills can slowly work into the body of an animal. A wolf or coyote who attack a porcupine may die from the event. Infections from quills can be fatal and a quilled animal may starve to death if quills are lodged in the face or mouth.

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