Meet the new baby porcupines at the Austin Nature and Science Center

Meet the new baby porcupines at the Austin Nature and Science Center

porcupine

One of two new baby porcupines meets the press during during its presentation at the Austin Nature and Science Center on Sept. 13, 2022. Pam LeBlanc photo

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.

porcupine

This porcupine is about four months old and weighs 6 pounds. Pam LeBlanc photo

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.

Porcupine facts

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

The new porcupine munches lettuce at a press event on Sept. 13, 2022. Pam LeBlanc photo

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 porcupine babies

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.

porcupine

The Austin Nature and Science Center will unveil its two new baby porcupines on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. Pam LeBlanc photo

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.).

porcupine

The two new porcupines at hte Austin Nature and Science Center eat rodent blocks and fresh vegetables. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

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This is the best place to find shells in Texas – but you can’t drive there

This is the best place to find shells in Texas – but you can’t drive there

shelling in Texas

I found this handful of shells on a beach near Matagorda Bay Nature Park. I think it’s the best place to find shells in Texas. Pam LeBlanc photo

I discovered the best place to find shells in Texas, but you can’t get there by car.

To reach the stretch of Matagorda Beach where I found handfuls of lightning whelks and lettered olive shells, you’ll have to either paddle across the Colorado River, where it opens into the Gulf of Mexico, or hop on a motorboat. Either way, it’s a short ride from Matagorda Bay Nature Park, an 1,100-acre parcel of parkland operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority just across the way.

I used a rental kayak from the park to paddle across the river to the opposite shoreline, then hiked through some thick underbrush and along the big granite chunks that make up the jetty to get to the deserted beach.

best place to find shells in Texas

Stacy Zahn uses an old mop to check for snakes while hiking to the best place to find shells in Texas. Pam LeBlanc photo

If you make the trip, stay on the beach. The land adjacent is privately owned, and you’ll be trespassing if you wander beyond the sand. Besides, if you’re looking for shells, you’ll want to stay near the water anyway.

Shell-hunting tips

The best time to find shells is before or after low tide, or after a storm. When you walk along the shoreline, look for the line of debris that marks the most recent high tide. That’s where the newest shells are deposited.

When you’re hunting, be sure to walk a little higher on the beach. That’s where you can sometimes find larger shells. And before you head back across the river, look in the heaps of shells piled along the jetty. I’ve found treasures there, too.

Related: Scalloping along Florida’s Sports Coast

I found dozens of lightning whelks, the state shell of Texas, in that zone. Lightning whelks are large, predatory sea snails, and if you hold the shell in front of you, the tail end down, you’ll notice it opens on the left. Other species open on the right. Lightning whelks can grow as large as 15 inches, and you can see a big one found on Matagorda Beach on display at the visitors center at Matagorda Bay Nature Park.

Many of the ones I found were broken, so I left them behind. I found a trio that measured about 5 or 6 inches long that I deemed worth keeping, though.

Other beach treasures

I also found a few lettered olive shells, cylindrical-shaped shells about 2 inches long that look like they’ve been lacquered they’re so shiny.

Thick, palm-sized shells called quahogs are common, as are scallop shells, which come in a range of colors, from red or orange to green and gray. Giant Atlantic cockles are ridged, like Ruffles potato chips; oyster shells are everywhere, and sharp enough to cut your feet if you step on them.

best place to find shells in Texas

Chris LeBlanc paddles a kayak across the river to go beach combing. Pam LeBlanc photo

I was hoping to find sand dollars but didn’t find any here. (I’ve found them along the beach at the cut between North and South Padre Island, farther south from Matagorda.)

When you’re hunting, be sure to walk a little higher on the

Take three for the sea

One last tip.

Please bring a trash bag and pick up a few pieces of trash. (My motto is Three for the Sea.) Nobody patrols this stretch of beach, and litter washes up every day. If we all do our part, we can keep it relatively clean.

About Pam

I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

Where is Pam?

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