36            Canada Porcupine

                            HYSTRIX DORSATA.--LINN.
                              [Erothizon dorsatum]

                               CANADA PORCUPINE.

                              PLATE XXXVI.--MALE.

     H. spinus brevibus, vellere sublatentibus; sine jubea; capite et collo
setis longis vestitis; colore inter fulvum et nigrum variante.

     Spines, short, partially concealed by long hair; no mane; long bristles on
the head and neck; colour, varying between light-brown and black.


     HYSTRIX PILOSUS AMERICANUS, Catesby, Cuv., App., p. 30, 1740.
     THE PORCUPINE FROM HUDSON'S BAY, Edwards' Birds, p. 52.
     HYSTRIX HUDSONIUS, Brisson, Regne Animal, p. 128.
     HYSTRIX DORSATA, Linn., Syst., Edwards, xii., p. 57.
     HYSTRIX DORSATA, Erxleben, p. 345.
     HYSTRIX DORSATA, Schreber, Saugethiere. p. 605.
     L'URSON, Button, vol. xii., p. 426.
     CANADA PORCUPINE, Foist., Phil. Trans., vol. lxii., p. 374.
     CANADA PORCUPINE, Penn., Quadrupeds, vol. ii., p. 126.
     CANADA PORCUPINE, Arctic Zoology, vol. i., p. 109.
     THE PORCUPINE, Hearne's Journal, p. 381.
     ERETHIZON DORSATUM, F. Cuv., in Mem. du Mus., ix., t. 20.
     PORC-EPIC VELU, Cuv., Regne Animal, i., p. 209.
     HYSTRIX DORSATA, Sabine, Franklin's Journ., p. 664.
     HYSTRIX DORSATA, Harlan, Fauna, p. 109.
     HYSTRIX DORSATA, Godman, Nat. Hist., vol. ii., p. 160.
     HYSTRIX PILOSUS, Rich., Fauna Boreali Americana, p. 214.
     HYSTRIX HUDSONIUS, Dekay, Nat. Hist. New-York, p. 77.


     The body of this species is thick, very broad, cylindrical, and to a high
degree clumsy.  The back is much arched in a curve from the nose to the
buttocks, when it declines in an angle to the tail.
     The whole upper surface of the body from the nose to the extremity of the
tail is covered by long and rather coarse hair, intermixed with a dense mass of
spines or quills.  These are of a cylindrical shape, very sharp at the extremity
and pointed at the roots.  The animal is capable of erecting them at pleasure,
and they are detached by the slightest touch; they are barbed with numerous
small reversed points or prickles, which, when once inserted in the flesh, will
by the mere movement of the limbs work themselves deeper into the body.  There
seems to be in certain parts of the body of this species a regular gradation
from hair to spines; on the nose for instance, the hair is rather soft, a little
higher up it is succeeded by bristles intermixed with small spines.  These
spines continue to lengthen on the hinder parts of the head, to increase in size
on the shoulders, and are longer and more rigid on the buttocks and thighs.  In
specimens of old animals, the whole upper surface of the body is covered by a
mass of quills, with thin tufts of long hairs, six inches in length, on the
forehead, shoulders, and along the sides.
     Head, rather small for the size of the animal, and very short; nose,
truncated, broad, flattish above, and terminating abruptly.  The eyes are
lateral and small; ears, small, rounded, covered by short fur, and concealed by
the adjoining long hair; incisors, large and strong.
     Legs, very short and rather stout; claws, tolerably long, compressed,
moderately arched, and channelled beneath.
     There are tufts of hair situated between the toes; palms, naked, and nearly
oval, hard and tuberculous; on the fore-feet there are four short toes, the
second, counting from the inside, longest, the third a little smaller, the first
a size less, and the fourth smallest.  On the hind-foot there are five toes,
with claws corresponding to those on the fore-foot.  The hairs are so thickly
and broadly arranged along the sides of the soles that they give a great
apparent breadth to the foot, enabling this clumsy animal to walk with greater
ease in the snow.  It is plantigrade, and like the bear, presses on the earth
throughout the whole length of the soles.  Tail, short and thick, covered above
with spines, beneath with long rigid hairs; when walking or climbing, it is
turned a little upwards.  Four mammae, all pectoral.
     Whilst the whole upper surface of the body is covered with spines, the
under surface is clothed with hair intermixed with fur of a softer kind.  The
hair on the throat and under the belly is rather soft; along the sides it is
longer and coarser, and under the tail appears like strong bristles.


     Incisors, deep orange; whole upper surface, blackish-brown, interspersed
with long hairs, many of them being eight indies in length; these hairs are for
four-fifths of their length dark-brown, with the points from one to two inches
white.  There are also long white hairs interspersed under the fore-legs, on the
chest, and along the sides of the tail.
     The spines, or quills, which vary in length from one to four inches, are
white from the roots to near their points, which are generally dark brown or
black; frequently brown, and occasionally white.  On some specimens the spines
are so abundant and protrude so far beyond the hair that portions of the body,
especially the hips, present a speckled appearance, owing to the preponderance
of the long white quills tipped with black.  The nails and the whole under
surface are dark brown.
     There is in this species a considerable difference both in size and colour
of different specimens.
     There are three specimens before us, that with slight variations answer to
the above description and to the figure on our plate.  Another, which we
obtained at Fort Union on the Missouri, is of enormous size, measuring thirteen
inches across the back; the long hairs on the shoulders, forehead, and sides of
which, are light yellowish-brown, whilst another specimen from the same
locality, which appears to be that of a young animal, is dull white, with brown
nose, ears and rump.  In every specimen, however, the hairs on the hips, upper
surface of tail, and under surface of body, are dark brackish-brown.  In all
these cases, it is the long, overhanging, light-coloured hairs, that give the
general whitish appearance.
     The difference between these specimens is so striking, that whilst those
from Lower Canada may be described as black, the others from the far West may be
designated as light-gray.  Except in size and colour, there are no especial
marks of difference.



     Length of head and body  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  29
     Tail, (vertebrae)  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   7
     Tail, to end of fur   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   8 1/2
     Breadth of nose .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   1 1/8
     From heel to longest nail   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   3 1/2
     We possess one specimen a little larger than the above, and several that
are considerably smaller.


     The Canada Porcupine, of all North American quadrupeds, possesses the
strangest peculiarities in its organization and habits.  In its movements it is
the most sluggish of all our species.  Although the skunk is slow of foot, he
would prove no contemptible competitor with it in a trial of speed.  Under such
circumstances the inquiry arises, what protection has this animal against the
attacks of the wolverene, the lynx, the wolf, and the cougar?  and how long will
it be before it becomes totally exterminated?  But a wise Creator has endowed it
with powers by which it can bid defiance to the whole ferine race, the grizzly
bear not excepted.  If the skunk presents to its enemies a formidable battery,
that stifles and burns at the same time, the Porcupine is clothed in an
impervious coat of mail bristling with bayonets.
     We kept a living animal of this kind in a cage in Charleston for six
months, and on many occasions witnessed the manner in which it arranged its
formidable spines, in order to prove invulnerable to the attacks of its enemies.
     It was occasionally let out of its cage to enjoy the benefit of a promenade
in the garden.  It had become very gentle, and evinced no spiteful propensities;
when we called to it, holding in our hand a tempting sweet-potatoe or an apple,
it would turn its head slowly towards us, and give us a mild and wistful look,
and then with stately steps advance and take the fruit from our hand.  It then
assumed an upright position, and conveyed the potatoe or apple to its mouth with
its paws.  If it found the door, of our study open, it would march in, and
gently approach us, rubbing its sides against our legs, and looking up at us as
if supplicating for additional delicacies.  We frequently plagued it in order to
try its temper, but it never evinced any spirit of resentment by raising its
bristles at us; but no sooner did a dog make his appearance, than in a moment it
was armed at all points in defence.  It would bend its nose downward, erect its
bristles, and by a threatening sideway movement of the tail, give evidence that
it was ready for the attack.
     A large, ferocious, and exceedingly troublesome mastiff, belonging to the
neighbourhood, had been in the habit of digging a bole under the fence, and
entering our garden.  Early one morning we saw him making a dash at some object
in the corner of the fence, which proved to be our Porcupine, which had during
the night made its escape from the cage.  The dog seemed regardless of all its
threats, and probably supposing it to be an animal not more formidable than a
cat, sprang upon it with open mouth.  The Porcupine seemed to swell up in an
instant to nearly double its size, and as the dog pounced upon it, it dealt him
such a sidewise lateral blow with its tail, as to cause the mastiff to
relinquish his hold instantly, and set up a loud howl in an agony of pain.  His
mouth, tongue, and nose, were full of porcupine quills.  He could not close his
jaws, but hurried open-mouthed out of the premises.  It proved to him a lesson
for life, as nothing could ever afterwards induce him to revisit a place where
he had met with such an unneighbourly reception.  Although the servants
immediately extracted the spines from the mouth of the dog, we observed that his
head was terribly swelled for several weeks afterwards, and it was two months
before he finally recovered.
     CARTWRIGHT, (Journal, vol. ii., p. 59,) gives a description of the
destructive habits of the Porcupine, which in many particulars is so much in
accordance with our own observations, that we will present it to our readers.
     "The Porcupine readily climbs trees; for which purpose he is furnished with
very long claws; and in the winter, when he mounts into a tree, I believe he
does not come down until he has eaten the bark from the top to the bottom.  He
generally makes his course through the wood in a straight direction, seldom
missing a tree, unless such as are old.  He loves young ones best, and devours
so much, (only eating the inner part of the rind) that I have frequently known
one Porcupine ruin nearly a hundred trees in a winter.
     "A man who is acquainted with the nature of these animals will seldom miss
finding them when the snow is on the ground.  If he can but hit upon the rinding
of that winter, by making a circuit around the barked trees he will soon come on
his track, unless a very deep snow should have chanced to fall after his last
ascent.  Having discovered that, he will not be long ere he find the animal."
     In reference to the manner in which the Porcupine defends itself with its
quills, he makes the following observations:  "It is a received opinion that a
Porcupine can dart his quills at pleasure into a distant object, but I venture
to affirm that this species cannot, (whatever any other may do,) for I have
taken much pains to discover this fact.  On the approach of danger he retreats
into a hole, if possible, but where he cannot find one he seizes upon the best
shelter that offers, sinks his nose between his fore-legs, and defends himself
by a sharp stroke of his tail, or a sudden jerk of his back.  As the quills are
bearded at their points and not deeply rooted in the skin, they stick firmly
into whatever they penetrate; great care should be taken to extract them
immediately, otherwise by the muscular motion of the animal into which they are
stuck, enforced by the beards of the quills, they soon work themselves quite
through the part; but I never perceived the puncture to be attended with any
worse symptoms than that of a chirurgical instrument."
     We had on three occasions in the northern and western parts of New York
opportunities of witnessing the effects produced by the persevering efforts of
this species in search after its simple food.  In travelling through the forest
from Niagara to Louisville a few years ago, we passed through two or three acres
of ground where nearly all the young trees had on the previous winter been
deprived of their bark, and were as perfectly killed as if a fire had passed
through them.  We were informed by our coachman, that in driving through this
place during the winter he had on several occasions seen the Porcupine on one of
these trees, and that he believed all the mischief had been done by a single
animal.  We perceived that it had stripped every slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) in
the neighbourhood, left not a tree of the bass wood (Tilia glabra) alive, but
had principally feasted on the hemlock, (Abies Canadensis.)
     Mr. J. G. BELL, one of our companions in our recent journey to the West,
met with some Porcupines that resorted to a ravine, in which about a hundred
cotton-wood trees (Populus angulatus) were standing, that had been denuded of
both the bark and leaves.  They had remained in this locality until they had
eaten not only the tender branches, but had devoured the bark of some of the
largest trees, by which they killed nearly every one.  They then were forced in
their own defence to remove to new quarters.  We were informed that in a similar
ravine to the one just spoken of, no less than thirteen Porcupines were killed
in a single season by a young hunter.
     On a visit to the western portion of the county of Saratoga, New-York, in
the winter of 1813, a farmer residing in the vicinity carried us in his sleigh
to show us a Porcupine which he had frequently seen during the winter, assuring
us that he could find it on the very tree where he had observed it the previous
day.  We were disappointed, finding that it had deserted the tree; we however
traced it in the snow by a well beaten path, which it seemed to have used daily,
to a beech tree not far distant, which we cut down, and at the distance of
twenty feet from the root we found the object of our search in a hollow part.
It growled at us, and was particularly spiteful towards a small dog that was
with us.  Our friend killed it by a blow on the nose, the only vulnerable part
as he informed us.  It seemed to have been confided to a space of about two
acres of ground through the winter.  It had fed principally on hemlock bark, and
had destroyed upwards of a hundred trees.  The observations made on this
occasion incline us to doubt the correctness of the statement that the Canada
Porcupine does not leave a tree until it has eaten off all the bark, and that it
remains for a week or more on the same tree; we were on the contrary led to
suppose that the individual we have just spoken of, retired nightly to its
comfortable domicile and warm bed in the hollow beach, in which we discovered
     The Porcupine we kept in Charleston did not appear very choice in regard to
its food.  It ate almost any kind of vegetable we presented to it.  We gave it
cabbages, turnips, potatoes, apples, and even bread, and it usually cut to
pieces every thing we placed in the cage that it could not consume.  We had a
tolerably large sweet bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in the garden; the instant that
we opened the door of the cage the Porcupine would make its way to this tree,
and not only feed greedily on its bark, but on its leaves also.  When it had
once fixed itself on a tree it was exceedingly difficult to induce it to come
down, and our efforts to force it from the tree were the only provocatives by
which it could be made to growl at us.  We occasionally heard it during the
night, uttering a shrill note, that might be called a low querulous shriek.
     As the spring advanced, we ascertained that the constitution of our poor
Porcupine was not intended for a warm climate; when the hot weather came on, it
suffered so much that we wished it back again in its Canadian wilds.  It would
lie panting in its cage the whole day, seemed restless and miserable, lost its
appetite and refused food.  We one evening placed it on its favourite bay tree;
it immediately commenced gnawing the bark, which we supposed a favourable
symptom, but it fell off during the night, and was dead before morning.
     Whilst on the Upper Missouri river in the year 1843, as our companion, Mr.
J. G. BELL, was cautiously making his way through a close thicket of willows and
brush-wood in search of a fine buck elk, that he with one of our men had seen
enter into this cover when they were at least a mile distant, he could not avoid
cracking now and then a dry stick or fallen branch.  He could not see more than
ten paces in any direction, from the denseness of the thicket, and, as he
unfortunately trod upon a thicker branch than usual which broke with a crash,
the elk brushed furiously out of the thicket, and was gone in a moment, making
the twins and branches rattle as he dashed them aside with (shall we say)
"telegraphic" rapidity.  Mr. BELL stood motionless for a minute, when as he was
about to retreat into the open prairie, and join his companion after this
unsuccessful termination of the elk hunt, his eyes were fixed by an uncouth mass
on the ground almost at his feet; it was a Porcupine; it remained perfectly
still, and when he approached did not attempt to retreat.  Our friend was rather
perplexed to know how to treat an enemy that would neither "fight nor fly," and
seizing a large stick, he commenced operations by giving the Porcupine (which
must have been by this time displeased at least, if not "fretful,") a severe
blow with it on the nose.  The animal immediately concealed the injured organ,
and his whole head also, under his belly; rolling himself up into a ball, with
the exception of his tail, which he occasionally jerked about and flirted
upwards over his back.  He now remained still again, and Mr. BELL drew a good
sized knife, with which he tried to kill him by striking at his side so as to
avoid the points of the quills as much as he could.  This fresh attack caused
the Porcupine to make violent efforts to escape:  he seized hold of the branches
or roots within reach of his forefeet, and pulled forwards with great force; Mr.
BELL then placed his gun before him, which stopped him; then finding he could
not lay hold of him nor capture him in any other way, he drew his ramrod, which
had a large screw at the end for wiping out his gun, and commenced screwing it
into the Porcupine's back.  This induced the poor animal again to make violent
efforts to escape, but by the aid of the screw and repeated thrusts with the
knife, he soon killed the creature.
     He was now anxious to rejoin his companion, but did not like to relinquish
his game; he therefore, not thinking it advisable to stop and skin it on the
spot, managed to tie it by the forelegs, and then dragged it on the ground after
him until he arrived at the spot where the hunter was impatiently waiting for
him.  Here he skinned the Porcupine, and turned the skin entirely inside out, so
that the quills were all within, and then no longer fearing to handle the skin,
it was secured to the saddle of his horse, and the carcass thrown away.
     A Porcupine that was confined for some time in the garret of a building in
Broadway, New-York, in which PEALE'S Museum was formerly kept, made its escape
by gnawing a hole in a corner of the garret, and, (as was supposed,) got on to
the roof, from whence it tumbled into the street, either by a direct fall from
this elevation, or by pitching on to some roof in the rear of the main building,
and thence into Murray-street.  It was brought the next day to the museum for
sale, as a great curiosity.  The man who brought it, of course not knowing from
whence it came, said that early in the morning, he (being a watchman) was
attracted by a crowd in the Park, and on approaching discovered a strange animal
which no one could catch; he got a basket, however, and captured the beast,
which he very naturally carried off to the watch-house, thinking of course no
place of greater security for any vagrant existed in the neighbourhood.
     On an explanation before the keeper of the museum, instead of the police
justices, and on payment of half a dollar, the Porcupine was again restored to
his friends.  He was now, however, watched more closely, and bits of sheet
tin were frequently nailed in different parts of the room on which he had a
predilection for trying his large teeth.
     We have mentioned in our article on the Canada lynx, that one of those
animals was taken in the woods in a dying state, owing to its mouth being filled
with Porcupine quills.  We have heard of many dogs, some wolves, and at least
one panther, that were found dead, in consequence of inflammation produced by
seizing on the Porcupine.
     Its nest is found in hollow trees or in eaves under rocks.  It produces its
young in April or May, generally two at a litter; we have however heard that
three, and on one occasion four, had been found in a nest.
     The Indians residing in the North, make considerable use of the quills of
the Porcupine; moccasins, shot-pouches, baskets made of birch bark, &c., are
ingeniously ornamented with them, for which purpose they are dyed of various
bright colours.
     The flesh of this species is sometimes eaten, and is said to have the taste
of flabby pork.
     The following information respecting the Porcupine was received by us from
our kind friend WILLIAM CASE, Esq., of Cleveland, Ohio.  "This animal was
several years since (before my shooting days) very abundant in this region, the
Connecticut Western Reserve; and no more than ten years ago one person killed
seven or eight in the course of an afternoon's hunt for squirrels, within three
or four miles of this city, while now probably one could not be found in a
month.  They are rapidly becoming extinct; the chief reason is probably the
extreme hatred all hunters bear them on account of the injuries their quills
inflict on their dogs.  They do not hibernate, neither do I think they are
particularly confined to their hollow trees during the coldest days in winter.
Their movements from tree to tree in search of food (browse and bark) are rather
slow and awkward:  their track in the snow very much resembles that of a child
(with the aid of imagination).
     "They most delight in browsing and barking young and thrifty Elms, and are
generally plenty in Elm or Bass-wood Swail."

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     This species, according to RICHARDSON, has been met with as far north as
the Mackenzie river, in latitude 67 degrees.  It is found across the continent
from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains, and is tolerably abundant in the woody
portions of the western part of Missouri.  To us this has been rather a rare
species in the Atlantic districts; we having seldom met with it in the Northern
and Eastern States.  It is found, however, in the northern and western parts of
New-York, and is said to be increasing in some of the western counties of that
State.  Dr. LEONARD, of Lansingburgh, recently obtained specimens from the
mountains of Vermont.  It exists sparingly in the mountains of the northern
portion of Pennsylvania, and in a few localities in Ohio; we obtained it on the
Upper Missouri.  LEWIS and CLARKE have not enumerated it as one of the species
inhabiting the west of the Rocky Mountains.
     It does not exist in the southern parts of New-York or Pennsylvania.  DEKAY
(Nat. Hist. of New-York, p. 79) states, that it is found in the northern parts
of Virginia and Kentucky.  We however sought for it without success in the
mountains of Virginia, and could never hear of its existence in Kentucky.