PORCUPINES


These fellows can cause very serious damage to trees and, unlike deer, they can destroy large standard size trees as well as dwarf trees.

Mr. or Mrs. Porky visits the orchard most often at night. In the late summer and fall it will climb the tree and start testing the apples, looking for the sweetest ones. If it cannot reach apples that are on flimsy branches it simply chews the branch off and drops the apples and branch to the ground. In dwarf trees it may break young limbs and spurs off from its heavy body weight as it climbs the tree. In younger trees its sharp claws will tear strips of the tender bark off the trunk as it climbs. The next morning you will find a pile of branches, apple cores, and partly chewed (tested) apples under the tree. Even more serious is when a porcupine bites off newly planted trees (whips) at knee height or lower.

In the winter a porcupine will climb a standard size tree and crawl out on the younger branches where the bark isn't as rough and thick. Then it will begin to make a meal of the tender bark along entire limbs, chewing into the living cambium layer beneath. Some trees are preferred over others, for example Cortland over McIntosh, perhaps because the bark is smoother on Cortland. It might be because the wood is sweeter because the author has noted that the sweet apple trees get hit first. A porcupine can kill a tree if the trunk gets completely girdled or do enough structural damage to require the tree to be cut down. One single porcupine can severely damage as many as 30 mature standard trees in a few weeks of working the night shift. They can do much more serious damage to dwarf size trees, destroying several trees in one night, coming back night after night.

Porcupines will also damage storage sheds, apple hampers, canoe paddles and anything made of wood which has had human hands touching it. They love the salt left behind from sweaty hands.

 This porky didn't "upset the apple cart" but it did upset some hampers on the author's back deck. This picture was taken with a flash at 2 o'clock in the morning.

Your local Forest Rangers or other wild life management officials, depending on your state or province, may have an animal trap to loan you to catch the critter, or they may come do it for you. You can also try catching it yourself using a large plastic garbage container. If trying to catch it yourself, avoid getting pierced with the sharp, hooked quills. They cannot throw their quills but they will slap their tails at you with the sharp barbs exposed, so keep your distance. Porcupines are slow moving and easy to catch, especially if you've cornered them in a tree. Use a stick to prod the porcupine into the garbage container (don't close the top if air tight). The porcupine should be removed to a natural forested area away from commercial fruit growers. It cannot climb the slippery plastic walls of the container and chewing the plastic is difficult as well. Besides, it will be too nervous and defensive to think about chewing through the container.

As a last resort you may have to destroy it, providing you can get permission from your local wild life management officials.

 

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