Porcupine in mountain ash, drawn for Nature of Southeast Alaska

Xalak’ách’  Erethizon dorsatum

Discovery naturalists are blessed by this ubiquitous and endlessly fascinating rodent. In some Áak’w and T’aakú watersheds (especially where deer are scarce), unassuming xalak’ach’ exert more influence over habitat structure and species composition than any other vertebrate. Because they’re fairly well defended from dogs who displace most other mammals from local trails, porky tracks are pretty easy to find on Discovery’s winter outings. Other clues we look for are turds and niptwigs; cast-down spruce branches with needles nipped at the base. Many a winter-season Nature Studies field team has tracked Erethizon right to her perch, by carefully scrutiny of trees above these turd-&-niptwig concentrations.

Porcupines are also Discovery’s best ‘teachers’ in the world of anatomy, decomposition, FBIs (fungi, bacteria, insects) and hands-on nature-sleuthing. What do I mean by that? Check out this short slideshow about a staff outing that circled back to Erethizon.

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Staff hike in Dzantik’i Héeni basin

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2018 | Richard Carstensen | 7 minutes