​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 6: Porcupines   
18 May 2018
Porcupines are the second-largest rodent in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and they fill a very important niche. Today's episode is all about the porcupines!
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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:

LES>> What are we talking about today?

GARY>> Today, we’re going to talk about rodents. When you think of rodents, you probably think of small animals like mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, hamsters. But there are some awfully big rodents living around here, too.

LES>> When you think of rodents, I guess I’d classify a beaver as a rodent.

GARY>> The beaver is. In fact, it’s the largest rodent in North America. They average about 45 pounds and can go all the way up to 70 pounds. The second largest, though, is the porcupine, and they can weigh up to 30 or 40 pounds. A lot of people don’t think of porcupines as rodents, because they don’t act like a typical rodent. They just lumber about slowly instead of scampering like a squirrel or a marmot does. They back down trees instead of coming down headfirst in that trademark squirrel move. And the sounds they make will just send chills down your spine!

LES>> You know, I’ve never heard a porcupine.

[porcupine sounds]

GARY>> That’s a horrible scream! And like other rodents, they have those long sharp front teeth that keep growing their whole life. They use them to eat twigs, bark, and roots in the winter, and all kinds of stuff in the summer. If you ever get a look at a porcupine’s face — and they are adorable, by the way —

LES>> Oh, yeah!

GARY>> You’ll notice their teeth are this deep reddish-orange color…

LES>> That’s because they don’t brush.

GARY>> Well, that does have something to do with it, but their enamel is actually full of iron, which is why they have that rust color and why their teeth are so good at dealing with a heavy tree.

LES>> That’s got to be the same reason a beaver’s teeth are…

GARY>> That’s exactly correct!

LES>> So they are related there!

GARY>> If you see one in the wild, don’t panic! They may have 30,000 quills, but they’re not going to bother you. Their top speed waddle is about as fast as you can walk —

LES>> Super top-speed waddle, too!

GARY>> — and they can’t throw the quills like the old wives’ tale says: you have to make contact for those quills to break off. If you do get quilled, though, that’s when you want to get into the hospital. Those quills are barbed, and once they go in they do not come out.

LES>> Nope. That’s pretty nasty.

GARY>> Fun thing about them: they have these really long claws that help them to climb trees. They’ll eat the bark off the trees, but they have one tree that’s their tree. They live in that tree, and they won’t eat the bark in their tree.

LES>> Oh, okay. That makes sense. All righty. Well, Gary, good talking to you. And, of course, Yellowstone Wildlife Director of Education, right?

GARY>> Education Director.

LES> Education Director. And we’ll talk to you again next Wednesday.

GARY>> All right. You can come on down and meet our porcupines, Rocky & Sidney, any time.

JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes, YellowstoneEcosystem.com, and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.

Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain, where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!

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