Another denizen of my lawn

I often write about the diversity of invertebrates that dwell in our unkempt yard, from the leafminers that colonized the first wildflower that popped up in the middle of it to the three dozen species that emerged from a shovelful of sod last spring. But we’ve also tallied 126 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians in our yard and adjacent woods since we’ve lived here. One that has figured prominently in recent weeks is this porcupine:


Last fall I often heard it mumbling contentedly to itself as it grazed in the lawn outside my office window, but this was generally at dusk and it wasn’t usually around when Julia and I were outside. Over the winter we could regularly see it up in its favorite hemlock tree at the edge of our backyard, slowly dismantling it, and only sneaking into our yard at night to prune our raspberry canes. But lately it has been waddling through our yard on a daily basis, munching on the vegetation, completely unconcerned about our presence. It spends as little time as possible standing up, instead flopping down with its face buried in whatever it’s eating.


The other day we watched it for a while as it slowly worked its way toward the strawberry patch where we were sitting, and when it started to munch on a strawberry plant, Julia actually pushed its face away and it didn’t feel like that was anything worth raising its quills about. It just turned slightly and went back to munching on dandelion leaves.

So yesterday morning when I headed out the front door to do some yard work and saw the porcupine there, I decided it was time for a little photo session.


I’m sorry to say that what looks like its left eye in the above photo is actually a bloated tick. There’s one below its right eye too:


We don’t have any deer ticks in our yard, but for a few weeks in the spring there is a fair amount of dog ticks. They’re easy to spot when they venture onto our pant legs, and we hand-feed them all to our chickens.

In the next few shots the porcupine is enjoying some dandelion greens, which seem to be among its favorite menu items from our yard.


After the first few photos, which were taken with my 105mm macro lens (the one that happened to be on my camera when I grabbed it), I switched to the 18-55mm so I could get closer to the porcupine and not have so much grass in the way. In the next few shots it lumbered within about a foot of my face, and I had to keep backing up.


It contemplated this white violet for a moment, but ultimately decided to spare it.


It seems to prefer eating forbs, but I got one photo that clearly shows it biting off a blade of grass:


I think it’s pretty adorable when it uses its front paws to hold the plant it’s munching on.


This last couple of shots was taken as it began to waddle back down to the woods, pausing to bite the head off a dandelion along the way.


About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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9 Responses to Another denizen of my lawn

  1. lifelessons says:

    I’ve never seen anyone post a photo of a porcupine before.. Fascinating.

  2. Lesley Roy says:

    Will the tick eventually fall off once it’s full?
    Seeing nature up so close must be very rewarding. I’d love to live in an environment where nature is just outside your back door.

    • Yes, I’d think the one by its left eye should be dropping off any day now. It’s tempting to go out with some tweezers and help the porcupine out, but not sure how that would go!
      When we were looking for a house, our most important criteria were having a yard big enough for fruit trees and vegetable gardens and having a forest out the back door. We got what we were looking for–which means we’re constantly having to defend the fruit trees and gardens from wildlife (including the porcupine), but well worth it in my opinion.

  3. Lesley Roy says:

    I wondered if the tic would fall off once it was fully engorged.

    What an amazing environment to live in. Where are you located?

    • Sorry I missed your question–I’m going through a long list of “pending” comments that for some reason I never got email notifications about. I live in Massachusetts, USA. And yes, the ticks drop off when fully engorged–which seems like it should be soon in this case!

  4. irisclearwater says:

    So sweet, thank you Charlie. I’ve never seen a porcupine, and you’ve given me such a lovely introduction.

  5. WB Chase says:

    My favorite rodent, so dosile.

  6. Love it! Thank you for all your fascinating postings!

  7. Judy Eddy says:

    These are amazing photos! Thank you.
    We’re picking 10-20 ticks per day off our dogs here in the Berkshires this spring! What’s going on?!

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