The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Prairie Dog
Story Of The Wild Boar
Story Of The Porcupine
Story Of The Hippopotamus
Story Of The Jackal
Story Of The Tapir
Story Of The Monkey
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Story Of The Porcupine
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I have a great deal of respect for the porcupine, and I have noticed that his fellow animals have a like feeling toward him. In the first place, he doesn't meddle with the affairs of others and he very quickly resents any attempt to meddle with his affairs. He rarely hunts for a fight and he never runs away from one. In all of the animal kingdom I do not believe there is a more fearless creature.
Conscious of his own powers of defense he seems to have a contempt for other animals. In Africa and India tigers and leopards attack him and often kill him, but only after a hard fight, in which they receive many wounds, which sometimes prove fatal, from his long spines, called quills. In Western America I have known a mountain lion (puma) to die of wounds received in a fight with a porcupine. The wounds suppurated, causing blood-poisoning, resulting in death. The other animals know that the porcupine is not afraid of them and that he is always ready to fight hence they respect him and usually leave him alone.
The porcupine has long been rendered famous among men by the extra-ordinary armory of pointed spears which it bears upon its back, and which it was formerly fabled to launch at its foes with fatal precision. This remark-able power of the rugged little creature has been thoroughly exploited and is attributable to a real fact, of which few writers take cognizance. When attacked the porcupine prepares for defense by rolling itself into a ball, exposing the bristles, but with its feet ready for action. When the assailant has approached sufficiently near, the active little animal darts forward, hurling itself against the attacking animal. The spear-like quills find lodgement in the skin of the assailant, causing in every case a hasty retreat.
This animal inhabits many parts of the world, being found in Africa, Southern Europe and India. The spines, or quills, with which it is furnished, vary considerably in length, the longest quills being flexible and not capable of doing much harm to an opponent. Beneath these is a plentiful supply of shorter spines, from five to ten inches in length, which are the really effective weapons of this imposing array. Their hold on the skin is very slight, so that when they have been struck into a foe, they remain. fixed in the wound, and, unless immediately removed, work sad woe to the sufferer. For the quill is so constructed that it gradually bores its way into the flesh, burrowing deeper at every movement, often causing the death of the wounded creature.
In Africa and India leopards and tigers have frequently been killed, in whose flesh were pieces of porcupine quills that had penetrated deeply into the body, and had even caused suppuration to take place. In one instance, a tiger was found to have his paws, ears and head filled with the spines of a porcupine, which he had been vainly endeavoring to kill.
As I have said, conscious of its powers, the porcupine is not at all an aggressive animal, and seldom, if ever, makes an unprovoked attack. But if irritated or wounded, it becomes at once a very unpleasant antagonist, as t it spreads out its bristles widely, and rapidly backs upon its opponent.
I have witnessed the successful defense of the animal on a number of occasions. Being one moonlight night with a party in search of porcupines with dogs, we had not been out long ere we discovered a hole inhabited by these quadrupeds. A dog was immediately put to it. The animal had not gone many paces, when he howled and retreated with several quills in his body. One in particular was driven an inch into his right leg. The porcupine, on the approach of the dog, drew itself into the shape of a ball, and, darting forward with all its strength, drove its quills into the dog. We were forced to give up the fight, and the porcupine saved his life by the desperate fight made against our dogs.
The total length of the common porcupine is about three feet six inches, the tail being about six inches long. Its gait is plantigrade, slow and clumsy, and as it walks its long quills shake and rattle in a very curious manner. Its muzzle is thick and heavy, and its eyes small and piglike.
The American Indians use the quills extracted from the Canada porcupine, a species living on trees, for ornamenting various parts of their dress, especially their moccasins or skin shoes. The length of this species is about two feet. It is found in many parts of the United States as well as in Canada.
It is capable of depressing the bristling spears, and can squeeze itself through an opening which would appear at first sight to be hardly large enough to permit the passage of an animal of only half its size.
When one of these animals has selected and settled himself in a tree to his liking, he may not leave it, day or night, until he has denuded it. of the whole of its foliage. I have seen many hemlocks thus completely stripped, not a green twig remaining, even on the smallest bough. It seems incredible that so large and clumsy an animal should be able to climb out far enough on the branches of trees to reach the terminal leaves; but he distributes his weight by bringing several branches together, and then, with his powerful paws, bends back their ends and passes them through his mouth. When high in the tree-tops he is .often passed unnoticed, mistaken, if seen at all, for the nest of a crow or a hawk.
The Mexican tree-porcupine belongs to a family which has hair so long as almost to conceal the spines. It is easily distinguished by the uniform black color of the fur, and also by the presence of numerous spiny bristles mingled with the hair of the lower parts of the body. These bristles arise in small clusters, and being white for the greater part of their length, form star-like spots among the dark fur. These bristles and the spines on the back are black at the tips.
This species inhabits the forests on the eastern coasts of Mexico. Nothing special is recorded of its habits; but from observations made on captive individuals it is probable that none of the tree-porcupines ever drink. It is stated that in those long-haired species in which the fur is of a grayish tint, the general appearance of the animal when reposing on the arm of a tree closely resembles a gnarled and lichen-clad knot.
The brush-tailed porcupine, of which one species inhabits Western and Central Africa, and the other Burma and the Malayan region, are much smaller and more rat-like animals than the true porcupines, from which they are distinguished at a glance.
A species of porcupine has been discovered in Borneo, distinguished by its short spines.
From the large size of their teeth and jaws, porcupines have great gnawing powers, and the writer has seen in India tusk of elephants which have been half-eaten by these animals as they lay in the jungles. The flesh of porcupines is excellent eating, and resembles something between pork and veal in flavor.