Saturday, January 23, 2010

Porcupine For Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Until last week I’d always assumed that porcupines were impervious to attack, I’d seen a dog with a mouthful of quills. But last week, in the wilds of Quebec (Parc national du Mont-Orford to be exact), posted on a tree was a little blurb about fisher cats. Having studied French for one year, over a decade ago, I was able to decipher almost nothing. Yet the sign seemed to strongly suggest that the fisher cat, the terror of the weasel family, could eat one porcupine every 20 days, a rabbit every week or 12 mice a day. I found this absolutely shocking. No, not the part where 240 mice equals one porcupine, the part where a porcupine gets eaten!

If I’d pictured a porcupine and a fisher cat nose to nose, ready to rumble, I would have been hard pressed to say who’d win. In my imagination they’re about the same size and it would have taken me a minute to realize that the porcupine was probably a genteel herbivore despite his rough – I mean pokey - exterior.

Are you having a hard time picturing a fisher cat? You’re not alone. The fisher cat (aka fisher, martes pennanti, Amercian sable and pekan) prefers to operate at night. They are elusive animals and don’t care for open spaces. I personally have never seen one. I’m not sure how I recognized its mug shot. But I clearly remember the first time I ever heard of one. That too was a shocker.

I was walking with a knowledgeable friend a few years back. I don’t remember where or when exactly. What I do remember vividly is his stopping to examine some “scat” (aka “shit”, “crap” or the equally sterile “feces”). Head bent to get a closer look he announced it was likely from a fisher cat, as they like to defecate in prominent places such as the middle of a trail or atop a large rock. I was properly horrified at such wanton and base displays of exhibitionism. I had no desire to know anything more about such an animal.

That was until I learned that fisher cats eat porcupines. Smarter than your average dog, the fisher cat doesn’t attack where there are quills. First it goes for the face, then when its opponent is weakened it goes for the gut. This is in fact the same strategy I was taught in self-defense 101. Of course the fisher is on the offensive but you would be too if you were hungry and had teeth like that.

[Photo taken 1/13/10 shows part of a sign hung by the Parc national du Mont-Orford. I also consulted “Mammals of the Northeast by Whitaker and Reeves, published in 1998 by World Publications and “The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals” edited by Wilson and Ruff, published in 1999 by the Smithsonian Institute. Please note that I’ve seen no further allusion to the fisher’s alleged exhibitionism, though I do not doubt my source. I will continue to pursue the matter and report back to you, tout de suite.]


  1. Around here Fishers are infamous for eating housecats. I have seen them running across the road in Ashfield.

  2. Hi, Fishers are new to me. I like the education I'm getting with your writing. Thanks

  3. Annie thanks for enlightening me.I am shocked and amused by this strange cuisine choice of Fisher Cats :).I bet sea urchins would be hor d'overs? Seeing as they are "fisher" cats.

  4. Eating house cats makes the Fisher popular in suburban areas no doubt. For such secretive animals they sure have a lot of reputation. PR consultants would do well to study the phenomenon of the Fisher Cat...oh no, I think I feel another post coming on.

  5. If Fisher Cats were into aquatics, they would no doubt find sea urchins right up their alley. But "Fisher Cats" are neither into fishing nor are they cats. Nearly every book and website I read proposed a speculation or two regarding the origin of such an inaccurate name. Powell's "The Fisher" listed many theories. Most commonly it is proposed that early settlers named them "Fisher Cats" because they either stole fish from settlers or looked like other fish-eating animals (american otters or European polecats).