This would not make a great Christmas present, but it’s what you get here at Phoenix Farm: a porcupine in a pear tree. This little guy is quite young, still growing its big quills. There have been several porcupines feeding on the fruit dropping from trees in our orchards. Most of the critters stick to the apple trees. This one is braver. The pear trees are the closest to the house. Pears must be really delicious for the porcupine to risk contact with humans and dogs to feast on the fruit.
Porcupines remind me of sloths. They seem almost in slow motion most of the time. Their eyesight is poor, as well. It is no wonder so many dogs go to the vet to have quills removed. The only defenses these animals have are quills and the ability to slowly climb trees. Every time I take the dogs out in the orchard I have to check for porkies on the ground. Often, there is one sitting and munching fruit. I talk loudly, sometimes have to clap to be heard, and the rodent ambles to a tree then hauls itself ten to fifteen feet up where it sits and peeks down at intruders.
Here is the working end of the rodent, the back end and tail. Porcupines lash their tails to implant quills. Older porcupines have backs bristling with long whitish quills. When I worked as a vet tech, I spent many hours removing quills from the mouths of hapless dogs. Sometimes we’d see the same dogs two or three times in a row, and they still didn’t learn to leave the porkies alone.
So far this fall our dog Max has gotten a few quills in his nose while trying to smell a bristling rodent. Luckily, they were easy for us to pull out. I’ve seen dogs with hundreds of quills embedded in their mouths. They need to be put under anesthesia to remove the quills in a time consuming operation that can get quite expensive. One vet I worked with used to joke that he kept a porcupine ranch and released a new batch whenever he needed extra cash flow.
If you have a fruit orchard and find piles of chewed up fruit chunks lying around, you have a porcupine at work. How the rodents get any sort of nutrition out of their method of consuming fruit is beyond me. They seem to just enjoy slicing the fruit into piles. Maybe they are after the juice? The fruit wasps (at right center above) appreciate the porcupine’s work. The wasps have been gorging themselves on pears until they fall into stupors, too full to fly away.
This has been such a good fruit year that even after I’ve harvested all we need, there is still plenty on the trees and ground for the wildlife. The fruit attracts deer, bears, coyotes, turkeys, various rodents and several species of song birds. And I must not forget how my flock of chickens hurries to eat under the trees every day when they are released to free range. The abundance is short-lived. In a few weeks all the fallen fruit will be consumed. It’s nice that I never have to rake drops in the orchard.