I came across the porcupine pictured above while walking through one of the pastures at the Wachusett Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton recently.

It’s a little unusual, but not unheard-of, to find one hanging around out in an open field. More often you find them perched up in a tree, or if you’re really determined to find one, curled up in a hollow log or in rocky den.

Nothing perturbs a porcupine – the 30,000 barbed quills that cover most of its body ensure that anything does will suffer painful consequences. The names for this chubby, prickly rodent comes from the combination of porcus & spina, Latin for pig and thorn.

I was reminded of an incident some years ago, when I was working at a wildlife sanctuary in the western part of the state. A porcupine was an occasional visitor to the cabin where I stayed during the summer months, usually when there were no tourists around.

As it happened, there came a day when a family city types – wearing flip-flops and street clothes – somehow made their way along the trail to the cabin and came face-to-face with the porcupine. I had expected shrieks, instead they mistook the porcupine’s disdain for them as a sign of friendliness and asked if they could pet it.

When I explained that it wouldn’t be a good idea, the mother in the group started to argue with me, saying she just wanted to be friendly. Luckily (for her) one of her children, a girl about 8 or so, had more sense and told her she should never pet a wild animal. Then they wanted to know where I kept the other animals … they were an extreme case.

Back to the porcupine in Princeton.

Fishers are its most dangerous predator, an animal that has successfully learned to attack the porcupine at its face and belly, the only two areas not protected by quills.

Porcupines are never in a hurry to go anywhere, and this one was no exception. He (or she) was quietly munching on the new vegetation in the field and let me come up close without giving me more than the occasionally suspicious glance. We regarded each other for a good 15 minutes while I walked around taking pictures from different angles. It didn’t budge an inch, and pretty much just kept eating.

Eventually I was the one who got bored an heading off looking for some early wildflowers. More on that in my next post.

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