We all wear our armor to protect us from the evil in this world, but for most of us, that armor is figurative. For the North American Porcupine (sometimes called quill pigs), that armor is very real and very spiky.
Their long quills are probably their most defining characteristic, but there’s a lot more to porcupines than that. They are the second largest members of the order Rodentia in North America, behind the beaver (though they are still only about 2 feet long, quite small compared to some of the predators they have to contend with). Porcupine are slow, herbivorous animals, and are at risk of predation by fishers and other carnivores. They try to avoid conflict and will climb trees to escape predators.
As cool as it would be if they could shoot their quills out of their bodies, that’s nothing more than a young porcupine’s dream. That myth is, unfortunately, harmful to these gentle creatures, creating a fear of them that is entirely unfounded. While they will attempt to protect themselves when threatened by raising their quills, if you give them their space they will return the favor.
I had a chance encounter with the pictured porcupine last summer. S/he was stepping onto the road as I was coming around a curve in Yellowstone National Park. Those speed limits are in place for a reason – if I had been going any faster I may not have been able to stop in time. As it was, I stopped, and the porcupine backed off into the safety of the trees again. I found the nearest pullout and from a respectful distance was able to get a few photos. S/he was cautious after the little road adventure, but after a few minutes came out from behind a tree and hung out for a while. I left after getting my pictures so that s/he could decide on what to do next without any distractions.
Being a slow moving creature, the porcupine is at great risk of being struck by cars. The best way to prevent this is to obey all speed limits, and always be cautious when coming around curves. A little life could depend on you, and as Dr. Seuss says: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”