Porcupine in a tree

Watch on Vimeo.

This is without a doubt the Undiscovery Channel’s finest production to date, and possibly the most gripping, action-packed 6 minutes and 14 seconds of film you will ever see.

Actually, all kidding aside, this is the closest I’ve ever been to a pocupine while it was feeding. Usually they’re at least thirty feet off the ground, and most often it’s after dark, so all I see is a fuzzy silhouette against the stars accompanied by the sound of chewing. This one, which currently resides in the crawlspace under my house, for some reason late this afternoon decided to snack on the ornamental cherry in front of my porch — only the second time that tree has been chewed on by a porcupine, I think. I discovered it there when I stepped outside to toss an apple core into the weeds.

There was barely enough light to shoot; you can see how darkness is falling in the last couple minutes of the video. A minute in, you can hear the clacking of teeth as the suddenly alarmed porcupine finally notices me standing there. And then it decides I’m harmless — not that very many things can harm a porcupine — and goes back to feeding. The camera’s memory card only allows a little over three minutes of video, so I had to go in and unload the first part before filming the second part, hence the break in the action part-way through.

Porcupines always remind me of something Tove Jansson, the great Finnish children’s author and artist, might’ve dreamed up. It’s gratifying to know that we still share the earth with such creatures. And as regular readers of this blog know, I feel a certain affinity for porcupines: fellow loners who really, really like trees.

Don’t forget to submit tree-related links to the Festival of the Trees by November 29 for inclusion in the December 1 edition at A Neotropical Savanna. See here for details.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

21 Comments


  1. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I live in a tree! Thanks for noticing, recording, and posting.

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  2. Wonderful video, Dave. Interesting that you’re reminded of Tove Jansson. Oh, and I love the snow, want some snow!

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  3. Give you joy of your sighting, Dave!

    It was wonderful being in this guy’s presence via UC. Thanks for getting the video and for unloading it and getting more.

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  4. I think that porcupine would make a great hat!

    But seriously, I watched the video before I read the rest of the entry and I really *was* utterly enthralled. What a superb animal to share your crawlspace with.

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  5. Oh, my, how cool is that? To walk out of your front door and …. how fortunate you are. And, once again, I love the sounds.

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  6. What a wonderful video. The beautiful creature toeing around the tree, the pauses between the gnawings, the chill of rain in the winter, one roll of thunder in the middle of all that silence. Love it.

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  7. I’ll take your word for it on the video! :^)

    Ken lives in a tree?

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  8. Wonderful. Riveting. Utterly beguiling. The way it climbs is just like a human child climbing a rope in the gym.

    I had no idea that porcupines climbed trees! I suppose I see them as a kind of variation on hedgehogs. I mention this shameful fact only so you know what an important educational as well as artistic function you’re fulfilling here.

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  9. My one and only encounter with a porcupine was in India. An albino porcupine named Raju, wandering freely in a wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat. There must be something of Tove Jansson in that.

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  10. I would also like to hear more about the tree Ken lives in. I once built a treefort and slept overnight in it with my kids, but …

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  11. I’m torn between wishing we had porkies here and wondering whether they do much damage to your reforestation project. It seems strange that we should have snowshoe hares in Pocahontas County (although not on Droop Mountain) and not have porcupines, but my informants assure me that’s the case.

    Whatever the biogeographic story, the cinematic story is wonderful. Much better than anything I’ve watched on YouTube.

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  12. Ken – Thanks for stopping by (and for Stumbling the post). Like some of the others here, I’d love to hear more about your treehouse!

    Marja-Leena – The snow is pretty unusual for this time of year. some years we don’t even get a white Christmas, let along a white Thanksgiving (tomorrow in the USA).

    CGP – I’m not sure if s/he would’ve been quite so unperturbed if it had been someone else. Living below my floor, I imagine it must be accustomed to my odor.

    Peter – Glad you (and so many others) found the video as engrossing as I did. Perhaps you or John should start a site devoted to slow film? I find the frequent cuts of most contemporary documentaries distracting. Nanook of the North set the standard, as far as I’m concerned.

    Lady P – Thanks for sharing that photo! (Hope you don’t mind that I made it a link – i don’t want to be stealing someone else’s bandwidth.)

    Peg – Thanks. I guess I was pretty fortunate in the soundtrack for this one.

    John – That’s actually not thunder, but the sound of wind on my camera’s tiny, tinny microphone. Unless you mean the passing jet at one point.

    Sherry – Cool! The video does have a kind of thanksgiving-feast ambience to it, doesn’t it? And you were just asking about my Facebook avatar, so the timing couldn’t have been better.

    Bill – Believe it. This is precisely the aesthetic I was aiming for: “Poorly edited, out-of-focus nature documentaries in which very little happens.”

    Jean – Thanks for letting me know. Yes, hedgehogs are pretty much just burrowing animals, aren’t they? North American porcupines like climbing trees as well as holing up in caves, rock shelters, or hollow trees.

    pohanginapete – I didn’t know there were porcupines in India; I only knew about the African ones. I figured you’d appreciate the Tove Jansson reference though. (I just re-read Moominland Midwinter.)

    John – I was never too successful in my tree fort-building attempts as a kid. We usually ended up with just a few planks. I think our mistake was in trying to build with the hard-as-nails oak lumber that was lying around the barn.

    Rebecca – We’ve had quite a few porkies here over the years, and they have killed the odd tree through over-attention, but in general we don’t find them the threat that foresters make them out to be. And now that fishers have moved in (probably expanding up from West Virginia), their numbers are down considerably. As I’m sure you know, porcupines continue to move south; you might get them one day. They’ve been in this area for less than 50 years, I think.

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  13. Cute — In the video, it looks kind of like a huddled-up monkey — I kept squinting, trying to see it’s “face”, before I realized the black area was almost all muzzle!

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  14. Yes, the eyes are just above the muzzle, and offer a 270-degree view like a squirrel’s, presumably for the same evolutionary purpose (depth perception). You can get a better idea of what porcupines look like from the video I shot two summers ago, http://vimeo.com/707430

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  15. This is super cute. And guess what? Porcupines feel a certain affinity for you, too. They say that you are a lot like them.

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  16. Thrilling, Dave. My heart wouldn’t allow me to watch the whole thing!

    The nearest I’ve been to a porcupine in a tree was also in Pennsylvania, in Potter County up by the New York border. Somehow it doesn’t seem safe to have all those quills hanging over one’s head.

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  17. Fascinating! I had no idea porcupines were this large or that they ate trees.

    Found via FOTT #30.

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  18. Hi Mike and Georgia – Thanks for stopping by. I’ve been around porcupines most of my life, so I guess I didn’t realize that their habits would be so unfamiliar to others. Now I’m thinking I should go back through my archives and tag all my porcupine posts…

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