Wondernose: What animal can kill and eat porcupines, remaining unharmed even if it swallows the quills?

by Rebecca Martin | Jan 1, 2023 | 0 comments

Fisher in snow
Fisher. Photo © Mikael Males/Dreamstime.com.

You seem quite surprised, Wondernose. Apparently you didn’t know there’s an animal that isn’t deterred by a porcupine’s quills. Well, such an animal exists, though it has become a rare species. These brownish-black carnivores live in the northern forests of North America. They are about 2 feet (60 cm) long, not including their long bushy tails, which may be up to 17 inches (43 cm) long. They may weigh from 15-20 pounds (7-9 kg).

Black fox? Good guess, Wondernose. Although you haven’t hit on the answer to our riddle, “black fox” is a name that has sometimes been used for our mystery animal. It’s not a good name; our animal isn’t a fox at all. In fact, it would be correct to say there is no animal that’s properly called a black fox. True, some foxes are black—but they are actually just red foxes with black fur, and they are called silver foxes.

Now how did we get side-tracked into talking about foxes, anyway? Oh, yes, you wondered if our mystery animal is a black fox. You will have to guess again.

To continue our description, we could call our mystery animal’s body streamlined—long, low, and lithe. Actually, it reminds me of a super-sized weasel.

Like the weasel, this animal is a ferocious hunter. If it becomes angry, few animals dare to face it. Even black bears will slink away from these fierce fellows. Picture piercing eyes, fur that bristles, a back that arches while hisses and screams of hatred are hurled from the animal’s mouth. Would you stay? I wouldn’t.

How does our animal go about killing a porcupine? It knows exactly how to avoid that threatening pin-cushion tail. With one swift movement it will attack the porcupine’s throat or underparts—and that is the end. Our animal has even been known to burrow beneath the snow in order to kill a resting porcupine from below.

Why do the fiercest animals have the finest fur? Few furs are equal to this creature’s coat. So you can guess what has happened over the years, Wondernose. Many years ago, these animals were trapped nearly to extinction. Their numbers are rebounding now, though their range has been reduced.

No, no, this is not a cougar. Cougars are much bigger. However, besides being called a black fox, some people have called this animal the black cat.

Okay, I’ll tell you the name. It’s called the fisher, but it doesn’t catch fish at all. It might eat fish if they’re lying dead on the bank, but I repeat, it’s not a fisherman.

Other names for the fisher are pekan and Pennant’s Marten. This brings us to a fact that may confuse you even more—fishers are actually a species of marten. Like the ferrets and polecats, martens and fishers can spray musk for defense.

Hollow trees are, of course, favorite nesting places for fishers. Often there are four babies in a litter. They develop quite slowly, not leaving the nest till they’re three months old. The mother fisher takes good care of her young. I’ll leave it to you, Wondernose, to imagine what would happen if a mother fisher were cornered in her lair with her babies.

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