Short-sighted critter wields 30,000 sharp objects, wants habitat protected

A porcupine in the wilderness
July 19, 2017

They have poor eyesight and would barely win a race against a turtle, but porcupines are not defenseless against predators. Their coats include about 30,000 pointy quills; modified hairs which with a flick of the tail, can be dislodged into an enemy’s flesh. During a single encounter, a porcupine may lose hundreds of quills – which can measure up to 12 centimeters long – but can regrow just like other hairs.

Given its prickly reputation, it’s no surprise the porcupine is usually a solitary creature. You will likely never see one in its natural habitat. If you do these non-confrontational introverts will probably be ambling off in the other direction.

The female porcupine generally bears one baby per year; young (called porcpettes) are born covered in dense black hair that conceals soft, barbless quills. Within hours, the baby’s quills harden and can be erected for self defense.

Found throughout Canada, the porcupine is a quintessential resident of the boreal ecosystem, which covers over 80% of Manitoba. They rely largely on tree bark for winter feeding and all manner of vegetation in summer months. The porcupine also craves salt and has been known to gnaw on leather and other man-made objects, as well as wade into ponds for water lilies, which have high sodium content. Like the beaver, its continuous chewing, including of bones and discarded antlers, hones ever-growing teeth.

Porcupines need the boreal in good health and so do we. The boreal is the largest source of unfrozen fresh water on earth, has been deemed the “northern lungs of the planet” due to its tremendous oxygen production, and greatly helps to moderate global climate as it stores more carbon than any other global terrestrial ecosystem.

Thankfully, the Manitoba government has wisely committed “to reconcile the needs of industry and rural/northern communities while continuing to enhance Manitoba’s protected areas network.” With many of Manitoba’s Boreal wild lands and waters still healthy, we have the opportunity to do what most jurisdictions in the world have lost, which is to plan for a balance of conservation and sustainable developments. For a healthy and prosperous future, let’s hope the provincial government’s upcoming green plan and economic strategies includes this as a key pillar for people, porcupines, and for the hundreds of species of wildlife that rely on Manitoba’s Boreal Region.

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