If you live in the North Woods, you know that the Pussy Willows are in full blossom right now…Fuzzy catkins adorning bare branches. What you may not know is that Porcupines crave the big fuzzy catkins! After a winter of a strict diet of tree bark, they seem to relish the newly sprouted grass and the catkins of willows and other trees.

Willows are dioecious…male and female flowers are on separate plants. The visible yellow on the catkins are the yellow-tipped anthers and stamens depending on if you’re looking at a staminate (“male”) willow or a pistillate (“female”) flower. They are a very nice addition to a bleak leafless landscape.

Almost every spring I find a Porcupine about head-high in a Pussy Willow, clinging to the small trunk, feeding on catkins. This guy/gal? was feeding in Jay Cooke State Park. He was very mellow and allowed me to film and photograph him from quite close. Watching him slooowly reach out for a catkin-ladened branch with his long-clawed paw reminded me of the Two-toed and Three-toed Sloths Bridget and I had watched in Costa Rica. Once the Porkie bent a branch close enough, he’d eat every accessible catkin with gusto. You can see this in the video below.

Porcupine Spring from Sparky Stensaas on Vimeo.

Note the orange front teeth. This is the result of iron salts in the enamel which act as a hardening agent. Under a microscope, you can see that the enamel is made up of layers of crystalline prisms at right angles to each other—the same layering principle that makes plywood so strong. And it must be strong since Porkies gnaw on tree bark daily. The incisors are sharpened to a chisel-like edge by the contact with the opposite incisor which wears down the softer white inner tooth. Since Porkies are rodents, their front teeth never quit growing. In fact, the entire length of each incisor is worn down each year, but since they keep growing from deep inside the jaw, the result is a net zero gain. You may have noticed the orange incisors on other rodents…Beaver, Rats, Muskrats, etc.

Porky’s orange teeth: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/640 at ISO 2000
Porkie wide in willow: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/3200 at ISO 3200 (Why 1/3200 at ISO 3200? because, when driving around I have the camera set to a fast shutter speed in “TV” or shutter priority mode…in this case a crazy 1/3200 of a second (enough speed to freeze a flying bird’s wings)…And I forgot to reset it before shooting. But in a scene like this (not much out of focus background) you can get away with this.

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