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Monday Reads: The Pacific Fisher Edition

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11 January 2010, 7:04 PM
A quick primer on the Pacific fisher, and a photo mystery
Porcupines, beware. Photo: John Jacobson, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

Question: What animal combines perseverance and tenacity with pro-wrestling moves to dine on porcupines?

Answer: Read on…

Last Thursday, we heard from Earthjustice’s California regional office on their success in protecting the rare Pacific fisher. Monday Reads was wondering, just what might be a Pacific fisher? Though its name may conjure up images of kingfishers and the like, this fisher doesn’t fish: it’s a close relative of the otter and the mink.

Meet the Pacific fisher:

Pacific fisher. Photo: Sierra Forest Legacy.

Greetings, unEARTHED reader. (Photo: Courtesy of Sierra Forest Legacy)

The cuddly image of the fisher should be immediately qualified with the statement that wolverines and weasels can also be found among the fisher’s relations. Secretive and nocturnal, the fisher has also been characterized as "snarly"—he likes his meat and is quite good at acquiring it.

Which brings us to the porcupines.

As the only predators specially adapted for taking down porcupines, the fisher frenetically circles the porcupine, attacking its prey’s unprotected face. After exhausting or killing the porcupine in this manner, the fisher performs a move worthy of pro-wrestling, flipping the porcupine and exposing its quill-less underbelly to start the meal. Accidentally eat a few of the quills? No problem; the fisher’s stomach is quite capable of softening up the spines.

The fisher plays an important role in regulating the population of its prey species, and is known for launching sneak attacks from high above on its unsuspecting dinner. The fisher’s ankle joints are capable of turning 180 degrees, allowing them to clamber headlong down a tree towards said dinner.

Unfortunately, logging and historic fur-trapping have resulted in the Pacific fisher’s disappearance from all of Washington, most of Oregon and half its range in California. Last week’s success defeated an attempt by a timber mill and anti-wildlife group to ensure that the fisher would never be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Now that you and he are acquainted, be sure to keep an eye on e.Brief for more developments on the future of this feisty fisher.

What Is This?
Monday Reads is introducing the first in an occasional series of visual questions. Take a look at the photo below, and leave your thoughts in the comments as to what you think this image depicts:

Photo: Jettajet

You tell us! Got an explanation for what this is? Tell us your best guess in the comments. (Photo: Jettajet.)

More Reads:


As ulogoni, Anonymous, woodchuck, and other commentators correctly pointed out, the mystery image likely depicted "wingprints" in the snow from a bird flying close to the ground. Head over to photographer Jettajet’s Flickr photostream for some additional context on this photo.

Grouse taking off wing marks in snow

I this it is a fishers track in the snow


Definately a predatory bird trying to regain flight after catching its prey.

It looks like it could be where a predatory bird grabbed something and then struggled to get air borne.

Looks like bird wing feathers in snow, with the tail feathers just touching. hard to tell with out seeing the depth of it?

it's a bird. probably an owl when it swooped down to grab a rodent

That actually looks like an owl attacking a beaver. I justify this by the shape of owl wings matching that of the outlines in the snow. You don't see paw prints because a beaver's tail would be sliding over the prints it leaves behind (paws before tails), masking the prints. The width is wide enough to be a paddle. There's no other reason I can think of.

It is a bird either dragging or trying to get off the ground with its prey.

Sea turtle tracks on beach.

a flightless bird on its back

it's tracks of a fisher cat dragging it's prey(dinner) to safety. porccupine!

i believe it's a seal walking along the beach.

Need to see more of what is there, but, closet thing I ever seen to it is were a sea turtle came on shore to lay eggs. neat looking track and will be gone when the tide comes back in.

I found the same prints in my yard on Cape Cod and hope i can get an explaination. The only difference was the paw prints were six feet apart and the drag imprint was in the middle.

I just saw my first fisher in Wichita Kansas of all places (American Fisher) at the Great Plains Nature Center. No record of them in the vicinity.
I was so excited. it was pretty cool.


I just saw a fisher tonite. Northern Illinois. Whiteside county. It ran across the road right in front of me! My in-laws live in Northern Wisconsin so I knew what it was immediately. My father in law hates them! They eat fawns and are an opportunistic eater. Very vicious too! I am going to inform the DNR in the morning. They will say it is impossible, but I know it to be true. Man, they are bigger than what I thought! Big as my dang dog!

The image above depicts a raptor attempting to get aloft with a meal in tow.

The image depicts a bird flapping its wings as it takes off over the snow.

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