Why a Moose should not Kiss a Porcupine

Last Friday we headed up into the high Uintahs partly to get away from the heat in the valley, the coolest temperature I saw was 41 degrees and it felt marvelous! One of the other reasons was to scout out birds for a possible camping/photography trip.

Moose with Porcupine Quills in her muzzleMoose with Porcupine Quills in her muzzle – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 500, -1.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Why would a Moose (Alces alces) kiss a Porcupine? I’m really not sure, perhaps this Moose cow was curious about a slow-moving Porcupine on the ground and got a touch too close. Or perhaps she was grazing on the leaves of a tree and didn’t see the Porcupine until it was too late. Whatever the cause was, I sure felt bad for this female Moose.

Moose cow licking her muzzleMoose cow licking her muzzle – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 500, -1.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I admit I wanted to hop out of the truck and gently pull the quills from her muzzle but the thought of being trampled to death by the Moose stopped me. She was eating willow leaves when I first spotted her so I am sure she will eventually be ok, she even licked her muzzle a few times. I’m assuming the quills will eventually fall out, until then I suspect her nose will be very tender.

Portrait of a Moose cow with Porcupine quills in her nosePortrait of a Moose cow with Porcupine quills in her nose – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/125, ISO 800, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

When the cow crossed the road I had to lay my D300 with the 200-400mm VR attached on the seat and grab my backup D200 with the 18-200mm VR lens attached just to fit the whole Moose into the frame. Not many of those images turned out well because she had walked into the shade and my shutter speed dropped like a rock.

As she moved a bit further away I increased the ISO on the D300 and tried to get a sharp portrait of her where I had eye contact, this was about the best image of that group. After I took this photo the Moose moved closer to a stand of Aspens and then disappeared into them.

Birds were few and far between that day but I won’t soon forget the encounter with this Moose.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Pingback: Posts from the Past – Wildlife

  2. Pingback: The Quill Pig aka North American Porcupine | on the wing photography

  3. That is tough to see, Mia. I believe Hilke is correct on the mechanism of the quills. One thing that always strikes me when I see injured wildlife is how easily one incident can change and debilitate the course of their entire lives — quills like these, filaments around a leg, human-inflicted injury etc. We have some recourse as humans when things happen to us. They generally don’t.

  4. One can not help but feel sorry for the moose. What an interesting encounter with some wonderful shots.

  5. Ouch!!! Nice find, Mia :o)

  6. Great shots and interesting story Mia. No doubt we will never know how she got the quills in her muzzle.

  7. That poor baby..we had a jersey cow that learned the hard way, not once but twice. I love the last photo..the eyes are so soft and expressive..thanks for sharing..

  8. Poor moose! I hope she’ll find a way to get rid of the quills. Unfortunately quills are barbed and do not work themselves out. On the contrary they work themselves in and can cause severe infection at least in dogs.

  9. Ouch! I subconsciously found myself rubbing my nose when I saw that first photo. This must be a pretty rare shot, Mia – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of a moose with quills. Or for that matter, any wildlife w/quills. It must’ve been an amazing experience.

    • Tami, I hurt for the Moose too. It was an amazing experience and I had never photographed another wild animal with quills in it before. Thanks for commenting.

  10. I don’t think it’s a bad case, but one never knows. I am sure Nature has a way of dealing with this with such a big mammal…I just don’t think it will kill her. I’m certain most quills will fall off and some just callous into her skin. A domesticated dog would be a whole different story, however.

    • Maria, I agree a domesticated dog would be a whole different story, at least it could be taken to the vet to have the quills removed. This poor Moose will have to wait until nature takes care of the quills. Thanks for your comment.

  11. The poor girl. Hopefully they fall out soon and heal up. they must smart

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