Porcupine – Pointed Payback for Getting Too Close

If you’re lucky enough to see one of these shy nocturnal rodents, don’t worry. It won’t charge or shoot sharp darts. If your dog sees it, his/her up-close canine curiosity may result in a painful payback.

Deer Creek Porcupine Spotters Needed!

According to the Nevada County Resource Conservation District and Wikipedia’s List of Mammals of California porcupines should live in the Deer Creek watershed. However, recent  iNaturalist observations (2019-2020) only show sightings in the Sutter Buttes and around Truckee. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking the public to log sightings. (See last paragraph below.)

Red dots show 2019-2020 iNaturalist North American Porcupine observations. The aqua strip shows the location of the Deer Creek watershed.

Historic Names

  • Thorn pig
  • Quill pig

These animals are north American’s second-largest rodent after the beaver.

MYTH CORRECTION: Porcupines don’t shoot quills

Hair, Quills, Stink & Antibiotic Skin

Most of the animal is covered guard hair that looks like quills. Quills are located in a structure, called the rosette, on the animal’s back-side. It flares out – like a dog raising hackles – when the rodent feels threatened. In order to become stuck by the quills, the threatening animal must press against the rosette which triggers quill release. Porcupines will also do tail slaps, similar to beavers, as a warning or with direct contact. Smartly, they aim for the face!

Quills are lightweight and hollow. In addition to defense, they also help the porcupine stay warm in cold weather.

Within the rosette is skin that produces a noxious odor – R-Delta-Decalactone- a waxy grease that spreads to nearby quills and hair. It emits a stink cloud announcing the animals’ presence, especially at night.  Folks familiar with the smell say it’s similar to strong body odor or soft cheese.

Photo Credit: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

Medical researchers are studying quill barb designs for an alternative to surgical staples (see articles in Resources below).

According to Dr. Uldis Roze, who was punctured by a quill that traveled up his arm, porcupines produce antibiotic chemicals that coat their quills. It’s a defense against self-injury., a common occurrence when porcupines fall from trees.

Additional Defenses

In addition to quills and a stink that grows stronger with fear, it’s black and white coloring and teeth clacking are also defense mechanisms.

Behavior

North American Porcupines are nearsighted, slow-moving, and solitary. During the day they spend most of their time in trees. In winter, they’ll hang out near their den.

Diet

The North American Porcupine is an herbivore. Below is a list of food sources.

  • roots
  • twigs
  • stems
  • nuts
  • berries
  • grasses
  • tree bark
  • conifer needles

Porcupines crave salt. Campers, backpackers, forestry and road workers say they can be found along snowy roadsides looking for salt. They’ve also been known to chew sweat-soaked socks, boots, gloves and wooden tool handles. They’ll also chew on plywood for the salty-tasting chemicals added.

Photo Credit: Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired) Bugwood.org

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

 

 

 

 

 

Den and Scat

Predators

  • coyote
  • wolf
  • black bear
  • mountain lion
  • golden eagle
  • great horned owl

Reproduction

Mating begins in the fall high up in tree branches. To signal receptivity, the female excretes a strong odor – a mixture of urine and mucus. Males arrive and wait. If multiple show up, they fight for dominance.

When the winner approaches the female in the tree, he spritzes her with urine which begins a chemical reaction sending her into full estrus. To complete the process, they move to the ground where female holds her quills flat against her body and lifts her tail so as not to injure the male.

Porcupine Mating in a Zoo

Compared to other rodents, North American Porcupine mothers are pregnant for 202 days.  (A female beaver carries for 128 days.)

They give birth to one soft-quilled procupette at a time. Quills harden after birth. A porcupine mother will nurse her young for up to four months.

Young are full-grown in two years.

Mothers care for youngsters but do not defend them from predation.

Life Span

If they are not hunted by humans, poisoned, killed by cars or die of starvation, a healthy North American Porcupine can live up to 30 years.

Human Uses for Porcupines

Native Americans have traditionally used porcupine quills for decoration and warmth.

Hunters eat them and farmers have exterminated them as pests.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (and iNaturalist)

“Observations of porcupines in recent years have become relatively uncommon and DFW is soliciting sightings from the public. In California, porcupines are most common in montane conifer and wet meadow habitats, and can be found in the Coast Ranges, Klamath Mountains, southern Cascades, Modoc Plateau, Sierra Nevada, and Transverse Ranges.” – CDFW

Report a North American Porcupine sighting for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife here

Report a North American Porcupine sighting on iNaturalist (California Academy of Sciences & National Geographic)

 

 

 

Click here to download a coloring sheet

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like North American Beaver- Water Banker or ‘Oh’ possum, a Tick Eating, Fear Fainting Marsupial

 

Resources:

Animal planet – Urban Relocation 

 

Bay Nature – Do Porcupines Life in the Bay Area? 

CBS Sunday Morning (Utah)

Chicago Tribune – Heal Thyself, Oh Fat and Prickly Porcupine

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

CPR News – Porcupine Barbs for Better Wound Healing

Discovery Magazine – Why Porcupine Quills Slide in with Ease but Come Out with Difficulty

Lander the cute baby porcupine (Montana)

Live Science – Porcupine Facts

National Library of Medicine – Antibiotic Properties of Porcupine Quills

North American Porcupine – Desert Museum (Arizona)

 

North County Public Radio – Porcupine Quills Like Hairs, Like Feathers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Porcupine Stink

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America – Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal

Removing Porcupine Quills – Quills Can Travel Through the Body

 
Seeker – Porcupine Quills Inspire Medical Devices
 
 

 

 

 

 

Lichen: Exploring Microecosystems in Your Backyard

Lichens are tiny farming biomes that live on rocks, soil and trees.

Fortunately, with a magnifying glass or macro setting on your smartphone, you can explore these systems within a few steps of your door.

A Lichen is a Symbiotic System

Lichen is composed of fungi, algae, and bacteria. The fungus captures plant cells, taking it inside its body where it nourishes and protects them. When the algal cells photosynthesize, they produce sugars that the fungus eats.

Very resilient, lichens have survived space experiments and can lay dormant for up to ten years in wetter California climates. Some species are over 1,000 years old!

 

What Lichens Need to Grow

Lichens need air, water, light, nutrients, and something to cling to (substrate).

Air: Like sponges, lichens absorb everything they need from nutrients to moisture. They’re so sensitive to environmental pollutants, temperature shifts and water conditions that the U.S. Forest Service uses lichen surveys as indicators of forest health, providing hot spot data and conservation priorities.

Water: Lichens don’t have the ability to regulate moisture levels (poikilohydry).  When they lack water, they dry out, go dormant and look dark. When water is available, they plump-up, look green, grow, and reproduce.

Light: The algal cells that the fungi farm need light to photosynthesize. Lichen species have different light requirements. Some prefer full sun on rocks while others like shady, cooler subclimates. Brightness and coloring are also affected by light. Species adapted to hotter and brighter conditions are generally more colorful.
 
Nutrients: Lichen nutrients include; oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Lichens use cyanobacteria to “fix” nitrogen from the air which is then used to organic acids and proteins. 
Species types – acidophyte & nitrophyte – that flourish or diminish under certain climate conditions are used in lichen surveys.
 
Substrate: Any non-moving object the lichen can hold onto – rocks, trees, soil, tombstones, houses, farm equipment, etc. 

Types of Lichen

Foliose: Leafy lichens that use tiny rhizines to attach to substrate.

Folios lichen – Plitt’s Xanthoparmelia plitti, Lettuce lichen/Lobaria oregana & Rhizine Photo by Ed Uebel – NOTE: Lichens are not parasitic. They  do not hurt trees.
 

Forage: Hair-like and hanging species that are eaten by animals and humans

Forage lichen – Willa/Bryoria fremontii – eaten by squirrels, western voles, wild turkey, slugs, snails, mites, springtails, certain caterpillars and Mule deer. Photo by Jason Hollinger

 

 

Crustose:  Lichens grow flat on their substrate surface

Crustose lichens – gold cobblestone/Pleopsidium flavum and Firedot/Caloplaca trachyphylla – Photos by Jason Hollinger

Fruticose: looks like a shrub, bush, or coral

Fruticose lichen – Old Man’s Beard/Usnea Photo by Rhododendrites & Wolf lichen/Letharia vulpina Photo by Jason Hollinger

Reproduction

Lichens have multiple reproduction methods. If they reproduce sexually (by way of fruiting bodies) they create spores. If they reproduce asexually, a powdery substance – soredia –  is released. Both methods use, wind, water, and animals to transport the newbies.

The fruiting body of the Pixie Cup lichen

MYTH: Lichen do not harm trees. 

Other Lichen Uses & Users

Clothing, wound absorbent, diapers, model train shrubbery, and an ingredient in concrete, perfume, and deodorant. Some lichens are being studied as new sources of antibiotics and medicines.

Camouflage for; lizards, moths, tree frogs and other insects.

Insect larva camouflage

 

Nesting Material

At least 50 bird species use lichens as nesting material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Bird’s Nest Fungi – Spores Spread by Raindrops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Acidophyte & Nitrophyte Lichen Species  (air quality indicators)

Bay Nature – Identifying with Lichens

California Lichen Society – Observations  |  California’s State Lichen

Consortium of North America Lichen Herbaria 

Field Guide To California Lichens 

 

Live Science – What are Lichens?

The Scientist – Not One, Not Two, But Three Fungi Present in Lichen 

Marin County Lichens (Introduction to)

National Lichens & Air Quality Database and Clearinghouse

North American Mycological Association

OPAL Identification Guide (PDF)

Sharnoff – Lichen uses by people: Perfume & Misc. | Dyeing

Sierra College Natural History Museum – California Lace Lichen

UC, Berkeley – California Lichen Society

University of Minnesota Extension – Non-harmful tree conditions

USDA – Lichen Bioindication of Biodiversity, Air Quality, and Climate: Baseline Results From Monitoring in Washington, Oregon, and California

U.S. Forest Service – About Lichens

U.S. Forest Service – Lichen Habitat 

Wikipedia – Lichens of the Sierra Nevada U.S.

Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lichen Photography

Lichen Photography by Stephen Sharnoff

Lichen Photography by Tim Wheeler 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Pine Cafe Art Show Virtualized and Extended

The Multimedia Story Show at the South Pine Cafe in Grass Valley was installed on March 4th. On March 19th, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the stay-at-home order. The physical show will remain at the Cafe through the end of May.

Until then, the show’s been virtualized!

Click on the thumbnail below to print out a PDF with Google Lens (and QR code scanning) video tutorials and pages of QR codes to scan with your smartphone. The scans take you to stories, documentaries, and artwork. The show at the cafe was designed to peruse while sitting at your table, but it will work just as well in the comfort of your own home. 

click on the image to download a PDF with video instructions to interact with the show

Teachers, event coordinators, artists and sign makers can find ideas for using Google Lens to enhance their stories.

 

Terry Juhl and Lisa Redfern at South Pine Cafe in Grass Valley, CA

We had a short window of time to enjoy breakfast at South Pine Cafe before it had to temporarily close.

 

Even homebound, Nevada Countians continue to do what they do best – find creative solutions to problems.

Jared White of Grass Valley Printers is one of those problem solvers. He created a Nevada County Community Coloring Book.

Opossum Drawing Appears in Nevada County Community Coloring Book

Part of the FDC project, the Opossum drawing by Bonnie McKeegan, made it into the first edition.

Coloring books have been purchased to give away at the South Pine Cafe once it’s back open for business!

‘Oh’possum, a Tick Eating, Fear Fainting Marsupial

Is the ‘possum’ an opossum or just a possum?
 
Opossums are North America’s only marsupial, an animal that carries and feeds minuscule young in a pouch.

First Observations, Description & Misidentification

 
When they were first observed (and recorded), during the early 1600’s, John Smith stated that the animal “hath an head like a swine …tail like a rat … of the bigness of a cat.”  Its name was derived from an expression for “white dog/beast” in the Virginia Algonquian language.
Animal misidentification is still common today… If your “cat” has a hairless tail that it hangs from, toothy alligator-like jaws, and it hisses, it’s probably a Virginia opossum.
 

Fossil Record & Species Introduction to California 

Opossums can be traced through sixty million years of the fossil record. What makes this even more astounding is the animal’s two-year lifespan!

Evolved for tropical ecosystems, several waves of opossum were introduced to California. The first population was brought to southern California in 1890, Tennessee immigrants brought the second wave to central California in 1910 as a food source and escapees from a fur trading operation was responsible for a third wave.

 

Traits Supporting Adaptability 

Opossum tracks. Opossums have opposable thumbs on all four feet. Photo Credit: Lensim

  • “Hands” (opposable thumbs) on all four feet
  • Prehensile tail – used like a 5th limb/hand 
  • Freezes when in danger 
  • Faints – nervous shock reaction – falls over & plays dead
  • Anal gland secretions – a repulsive greenish musk-like fluid 
  • Females can have three litters/year – producing up to 20 babies each
  • Short gestation period – 11-14 days
  • Rabies resistant (probably from low body temperature)
  • Resistance to poisonous snake venom

 

 

 

    Predators that eat living animals often leave prey that appears (and smells) dead. the animal rolls over on its side, becomes limp, shuts its eyes, and lets its tongue hang from an open mouth. The heartbeat slows and the animal appears to be dead.

Diet

They’re omnivores and will eat anything.

  • Small rodents
  • Ticks – up to 5,000 in a season! (Lyme disease reduction)
  • Insects
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Worms
  • Frogs
  • Birds
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Garbage
  • Pet Food
  • Bird Seed

Opossums are nocturnal scavengers. They’re attracted by the smell of rotting food in garbage cans and along roadways.

After 2.5 months in the marsupial pouch, babies come out and cling to their mother’s fur.

Jacks, Jills & Joeys

Adult males and females are known as Jacks and Jills. Babies are Joeys.

Pouch Checking

Habitat

An opossum’s first habitat of choice is near streams and wetlands. Since they are not prolific diggers, they’ll shelter in tree cavities, abandoned burrows of other animals, under brush piles or under manmade structures.

In urban areas, they can be found under decks, in garden sheds, attics, garages, or under steps. Nesting material appears like random debris piles rather than woven or constructed.

Opossum Pest Prevention

Because of their varied diet, adaptability, and warm winter climates, the animals have successfully integrated into urban environments. If you have opossums living near your home, below are a few actions you can take to encourage them to move.

  • clear overhanging brush away from the walls of our home and roof – at least 5 feet.
  • remove fallen fruit from under fruit trees
  • tightly stack firewood, at least 18″ off the ground
  • tight-fitting garbage can lids
  • feed pets indoors and/or move pet food inside at night
  • poultry wire protection fencing around gardens (burry down under earth at the base at least 6″)
  • keep food scraps out of compost piles
  • screen access to under house or steps

Although Opossums can carry disease, and their defense strategies are noxious and showy, they are not generally considered dangerous wild animals.

Click on image to buy or see more Life on the Creek art

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, Racoon – Puzzler and Mastermind

Resources:

Bay Nature – More Opossums for the Internet

Blog Post Opossum Artist – Bonnie McKeegan

Davis Wiki – Opossums

Mental Floss – What’s the Difference Between a Possum and an Opossum?

Mother Jones – I’ve Stayed Silent Too Long: Opossums Deserve Our Love

Nevada County Wildlife Services

NPR – Declining Biodiversity Speeds Spreading of Disease

Opossum Society of the United States – General Information

Pest Management Professional – Why The Opossum Successfully Lives in the Shadows of Humans

Science Daily – Climate change, urbanization driving opossum’s northward march

The Opossum: Its Amazing Story by William & Winifred Krause {Dept. of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri] PDF

Northern Woodlands – Live Wierd, Die Young: the Virginia Opossum

SFGate – What do Opossums Eat and Are they Dangerous?

University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources – Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program  – Opossum

Wikipedia – Virginia Opossum

Drone Filming Behind the Scenes with Titus Davis

In the fall of 2019, Titus Davis of Lodestone Drone Productions, joined me to help tell more of the Deer Creek Watershed story. With his drone and special flying license, we met at several locations to film. Titus is a longtime Nevada County resident. Taking him hiking through the Black Swan Preserve was a pleasure because he enjoyed the new scenery and was thinking about other people he could share it with.  The old Cotton Brothers bridge near Bitney Springs Road was another first.

As we went through the filming and set-up process and sorted out how to transfer data, he explained some of the intricacies of drone operation. He generously shares these below.

Drone Operation Considerations from Titus Davis:

[While filming the Cotton Brothers Bridge, the drone had a little difficulty staying on course. This was caused by…]

Ferromagnetism is a phenomenon that occurs in some metals, most notably iron, cobalt, and nickel, that over time causes the metal to become magnetic. This is a natural process that can be caused by electrolysis, which is part of the corrosion process. Ferromagnetism can also be increased by the earth’s magnetic field, vehicles passing over, vibration, etc.

Most drones used for photography have a sensitive compass to help orientate the drone, allowing it to fly in a straight line. The drone I use has two compasses to ensure it has an accurate reading on the earths magnetic field. If the iron bridge has a magnetic field that is different than the earths field, the compass will be affected. This effect can be seen when the drone has difficulty flying in a straight line near the bridge.

Another challenge to flying is the drone’s GPS system feature which helps stabilize it and hold a position in the wind. Anything that affects the GPS signals will cause the drone to drift. Flying near iron objects or under them can cause a loss of the GPS signal. This will cause the drone to drift and not accurately hold altitude.

Drone Filming Precautions

Flying under the Boulder Street Bridge.

When we met at Lefty’s Grill (on a day the restaurant was closed) to film dusk over the creek and Nevada City, Titus had already communicated with Lefty’s management asking if it was OK to film there and notified the Nevada City Police Department. (If they received calls from concerned citizens, they’d already know what was going on.)

When we were at the turtle ponds on the Black Swan Preserve, he was watching for hunting birds after explaining that birds of prey sometimes attack drones. (Drone color may affect bird attraction.)

Deer Creek Bridge Films

Click here to watch Titus’s drone footage – Deer Creek Bridges – Elevations & History.

Davis Drone Footage to Appear in Deer Creek Flyover Film

Lisa is currently producing a flyover film she plans to submit to the 2021 SYRCL Wild and Scenic Film Festival. It’s taken a year to collect the footage for the project; Davis’s drone footage will highlight key features along Deer Creek. 

Resources:

 

Titus Davis Lodestone Drone Productions lodestonedrone.com lodestonedrone@gmail.com

 

*Fortunately, we had no attack bird skirmishes, but after we were done, I had to research what a confrontation would have looked like. See the video below.