Porcupines make comeback

CHARLESTON (AP) – Porcupines are re-establishing themselves in West Virginia’s northeastern mountains, from Randolph to Berkeley counties. Sightings of the spiny rodent have been on the rise, though no studies have been conducted to assess their numbers. Often, it’s a hunter’s dog returning to its master with a snoot full of quills that reveals their return.

The Charleston Sunday Gazette reports that until porcupines began turning up in West Virginia in recent years, the animals apparently had been absent for more than a century and the start of wide-scale deforestation. “As best we can tell, they were here in some of our higher-elevation forests, but gone about the time of early settlement,” said Chris Ryan, a DNR wildlife biologist based in Charleston

Adult porcupines range from 2 to 3 feet in height and weigh between 12 and 35 pounds. Each has up to 30,000 quills across its body, except for its belly and a portion of its face.When attacked it will turn its back on an attacker, raise its quills and lash out with its tail. It does not toss its quills, as some believe. Porcupines are good tree climbers and swimmers. They are vocal, too, making a variety of grunts, groans, coughs and wails.

Its only natural predators are the mountain lion and the fisher. “They’ve been slowly creeping south from northern Pennsylvania for decades, but they haven’t been seen in this state until fairly recently,” said Gene Thorn, the Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologist who manages the West Virginia Wildlife Center at French Creek.

“I think they were first spotted in Hampshire County, and they’ve spread from there,” Thorn said. “We’ve had at least one sighting here in Upshur County.”

Allan J. Niederberger, assistant district wildlife biologist for the Division of Natural Resources’ District II, said porcupines have been in the state for at least a couple decades. “We saw the first couple killed on the road probably about 20 years ago,” he said. People in Hampshire and Hardy counties walking through forested areas have reported seeing piles of bark shavings and manure pellets on the ground. That is evidence of porcupines living in, and dining on, trees.

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