The Ferocious Fisher

Martes pennanti
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There is only one animal tough enough to attack and kill a porcupine.

Before we left for Christmas break, two coworkers and I were on our way to “Mexican night” at the local rural bar/restaurant. I was driving down a country road through the woods after dark. Suddenly a large, dark, hairy animal with a bushy tail darted across the road through my headlights. Not large like a bear or wolf, but larger and heavier-looking than a porcupine or rabbit or other small mammal we expect to see regularly, and definitely big enough to catch our attention.

We were mystified. What had we just seen? At the restaurant we described our sighting to the elderly waitress, who confirmed our suspicions. What we were describing was a fisher.

Though they’re not as well-known as charismatic Northwoods predators like bears and wolves, fishers (members of the weasel family) have one important claim to fame: they are the only animals that regularly kill and eat porcupines. They don’t only eat porcupines (in fact, they’re generalists who will eat just about anything except fish), but their technique for killing them is terrifying and badass: fishers bite porcupines in their quill-less faces over and over again until they die.

Why am I talking about this now? I’m currently taking the workshop to become a Certified Interpretive Guide, and for my ten-minute presentation I’m going to be talking about fishers and why they are the coolest, toughest predator in the North Woods. In preparing for our presentation we had to brainstorm universal intangible concepts related to our topic, and my list went something like “power, survival, violence, toughness, perseverance, death.” It’s easy to forget how many animals here we almost never see because of their secretive, nocturnal habitats, but this is one that has captured my imagination.

6 thoughts on “The Ferocious Fisher”

  1. Fishers intrigue me as well, though I’ve never seen one. We have an apparently healthy population here in New York’s Catskills, and I like to hike up to a hillside where there are a lot of cliffs and caves inhabited by porcupines. After a snowfall, I never fail to see fisher tracks where they’ve made their rounds, poking into the caves.

    I’m sure you know that fishers are aided in their efforts to prey on porcupines by their ability to descend trees head-first. This foils the porcupine’s strategy of climbing trees to evade predators by presenting their intimidating hindquarters and protecting their vulnerable faces.

    Occasionally hereabouts, people report seeing “black panthers”. Dollars to donuts, I’ll bet it’s fishers they’re seeing.

  2. There are a lot of fishers in the forest here. Intense critters. I read in Paul Rezendez’s tracking book that along with biting the porcupines in the face to kill them, they’ve been known to climb up after them and force them way out on limbs until they fall and are injured, if not TOO injured, they follow them up the next tree and do the same until the porcupine is too tired and injured, then they kill them. Yikes.

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