Skunks and Porcupines, Masters of Defence
Skunks, in contrast to porcupines, are positively cuddly with soft, luxuriant fur, just begging to be stroked.
Chances are you can outrun a skunk or a porcupine. These mammals are even slower than we are. But don’t attempt to prove your superior speed by running after them.
Both skunks and porcupines have evolved stunning defences that have rendered speed unnecessary. They conduct their affairs in an unhurried fashion despite living among fleet-footed and toothy predators such as bears, wolves, coyotes and foxes.
Skunks and porcupines, of course, protect themselves in very different ways. Porcupines bristle with 30,000 quills that can penetrate flesh more effectively than hypodermic needles. These quills detach easily upon contact with a canine’s nose or a bear’s paw.
Skunks, in contrast to porcupines, are positively cuddly with soft, luxuriant fur, just begging to be stroked. But this isn’t recommended. Being squirted by a noxious cocktail of chemicals, sprayed from twin nozzles near the skunk’s anus, would be your reward.
These jets of spray can travel at least three metres and can temporarily blind would-be predators. The staying power of the stink is impressive, but apparently there are easy ways to neutralize it. (Tomato juice isn’t one of them!)
Alas, in nature, as in the fantasy world of fictional crime-fighting heroes, defence is never absolute. Superman’s nemesis is kryptonite; Sherlock Holmes is tormented by the diabolical Moriarty.
A porcupine’s arch foe is the fisher. This large weasel attacks the face and unprotected belly of the porcupine, avoiding the sharp quills. And a skunk’s nemesis? The great-horned owl. With a limited sense of smell, these aerial tigers are partial to skunk on the menu. Attacking silently from above likely protects their eyes from the skunk’s spray.
In fable, the slow and steady tortoise beats the speedy hare in a race. In real life the plodding skunk and porcupine also triumph. (Well, most of the time!)
Savour fall with these 10 wonders of autumnal nature – from insects to constellations.