Porcupines, known as porcupettes, look vaguely like prickly little potatoes when they’re born.
They’re smaller than a fist, and already covered with quills, which harden within a few hours of birth.
But as the weeks pass, they grow into lumbering, vegetation-munching rodents with eyes the size of thumb tacks and toenails that help them cling to trees.
They’re oddly cute, as I discovered this morning, during a visit to the Austin Nature & Science Center, which unveiled a pair of four-month-old North American porcupines that will be introduced to the public this Sunday.
Just one, a male, made an appearance today. The female is still acclimating to its new home. Both were born in Minnesota.
The as-yet-unnamed, 6-pound bundle of quills I met emerged from a plastic dog carrier the size of a large suitcase, nibbled bits of lettuce, sweet potatoes and apples, chewed on a leafy branch, and all but ignored the small crowd of journalists who gathered to admire it.
Porcupines, it turns out, are the second largest rodent in North America, weighing in behind the North American beaver. When the center’s new porcupines are full grown, they’ll weigh about 12 pounds each.
Porcupine sightings are becoming more common in the Austin area. The species is slowly spreading into Central Texas, as the climate warms and they look for more reliable sources of water.
Help name the porcupines at the Austin Nature and Science Center
The public is invited to help name the center’s new babies, either by suggesting a name online or by visiting the center this Sunday, which is Austin Museum Day. Members of the Friends of the Austin Nature and Science Center will be collecting donations to make improvements to some of the center’s animal shelters.
The center’s goal is to educate the public about nature and natural places, and get people excited about what’s living in their own backyards. It offers programs and exhibits, including a sand pit where kids can dig for dinosaur “bones,” a honey bee hive, and a trading post where kids can bring in natural treasures and swap them for others.
The center also cares for rehabilitated wildlife like owls and hawks that can’t be released to the wild due to their injuries.
The porcupines will join the Small Wonders Exhibit, where visitors can also see an assortment of snakes, lizards and other reptiles.
The Austin Nature and Science Center is located at 2389 Stratford Drive, just south of the pedestrian bridge under Loop 1 (MoPac.).