April 11, 2018 1:37 PM   Subscribe

I was in my backyard in Northwest PA and I saw this mammal waddling away with dark black wiry hair. I couldn't get a picture.

It looked to be the size of a medium dog. It was AT LEAST a foot tall but about two foot wide. It was in the underbrush between my house and my neighbors so it may have been bigger. It left quite the path in the greens when it left and it waddled like a groundhog. I have groundhogs but I've never seen one this big or dark. I've also seen plenty of opossums but this was different. I live in the middle of a city, but I'm an organic gardener and I live within a mile of a marshy part of Lake Erie so I get a lot of nontraditional visitors. Any ideas? I've googled black mammals but I don't have the googlefu for this apparently. Thanks!
posted by Bistyfrass to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My vote is for beaver.

the sentences the internet makes me write
posted by slipthought at 1:44 PM on April 11, 2018 [28 favorites]

Not a direct answer, but wikipedia has a list of mammals of Pennsylvania that might be a good starting point. My best guess from that list and from the description of it waddling would be either a porcupine or (maybe?) a young black bear. My first guess from your question was a badger or similar, but according to that page both badgers and wolverines are no longer found in PA.
posted by duien at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Going with porcupine. When I saw one in the wild I thought it was a small bear at first.
posted by booooooze at 1:51 PM on April 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Did it gallomph around like an otter? But big?

Maybe fisher cat?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:15 PM on April 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

Late PSA--take care on scrolling on that image search; there are a couple of images that are not safe for lovers of animals. :(
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:16 PM on April 11, 2018

posted by kbuxton at 2:25 PM on April 11, 2018

I came here to suggest fisher as well - they're not unknown in PA
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:29 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That tail is exactly what I saw! A fisher cat is probably it. I'm glad I'm not crazy, because I've never heard of it before and I've never seen anything like it. I thought it was a tiny bear or something. We do have a lot of chipmunks so it was probably doing it's thing. I'm glad to know because I have a dog that will chase anything that moves and that could go poorly for her. Thanks everyone!
posted by Bistyfrass at 2:42 PM on April 11, 2018

Beavers are really a lot (a lot) bigger than one might imagine.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 PM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

A guy telling a compelling story about how reintroducing fishers helped restore forest ecosystems, and then carrying one on his shoulders. She looks very soft! Apparently they will eat cats, though.
posted by amtho at 3:50 PM on April 11, 2018

Fisher cat seems like a good candidate. Muskrats are another possibility. They look almost exactly like beavers with round, furry tails instead of flat, leathery ones.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:10 PM on April 11, 2018

A fisher is a predator, and I don’t think predators go around smashing up the flora. It’s bad for business. Also, while they are indeed rarely spottted in woodsy suburbs, they are not really known to occur “in the middle of the city”.

Quoting the Wikipedia article, fishers:
prefer continuous forest to other habitats. They have been found in extensive conifer forests typical of the boreal forest, but are also common in mixed-hardwood and conifer forests. Fishers prefer areas with continuous overhead cover with greater than 80% coverage and avoid areas with less than 50% coverage.

So, sorry, most likely not a fisher.

Not sure what it was, but the more consistent and plausible answers are porcupine and skunk, based on the description and the damaged trail left.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2018

Fishers don't waddle and they aren't two feet wide, or even close. Not a fisher unless your description is way wide of the mark.

Porcupines do waddle and smash the undergrowth, and their tails look furred from a distance. Also, or alternatively, Wikipedia notwithstanding it's highly implausible that badgers no longer inhabit rural and suburban Pennsylvania.
posted by bricoleur at 5:58 PM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Fishers definitely don't waddle. Here are videos of each creature candidate walking:
Black Bear / Fisher / Beaver / Muskrat / Porcupine / Nutria (0:52)
posted by scrubjay at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

If there is any water around, beaver would be my first thought. They are pretty large and their proportions make them seem even larger at a distance. I could easily see one looking as big as Georgia's 30-40 pound puggle based on seeing them in the pond and scurrying around their dam behind an apartment we used to live in.

Raccoons can sometimes be particularly large as well, at least as large as the freakishly large house cats I've known, and they can be hard to identify as such when you only catch a short glimpse of their rear end from a distance.

Can't say I've ever seen a porcupine that reads as that large, but I haven't seen many in my life.
posted by wierdo at 6:56 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you have porcupines in PA?
posted by trbrts at 7:39 PM on April 11, 2018

beavers are fucking tremendous and can easily break your arm with their giant smelly tail.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:32 PM on April 11, 2018

Beavers are pretty unusual away from water. They certainly waddle and can get that size, but they really don't like to be that far from water.

I have seen raccoons that big and they can come with shiny black coats too. They do waddle, they are astoundingly common in cities and they can get very big indeed. I've seen ones in the 50lb range (in my kitchen eating out of the cat bowl while my 23lb cat watched from a respectful distance). If the distinctive ring tail was low (or even missing), you might have missed it.

Fishers are fast and sleek. In the wild they're can be mistaken for a cat at a glance, they're so graceful. They don't waddle. They slink, they bound and they run.
posted by bonehead at 8:42 PM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have seen porcupines in my yard where the white quills are pretty much invisible so they appear entirely black. N'thing they can look like small bear cubs - they are pretty big, they waddle, and they walk through the bush like they dgaf. (I'm always getting wayyy to close to them trying to figure out what they are and then slowly backing away as the realization dawns on me...) I'm not sure what you mean by wirey hair, the porcupines I have seen don't have their quills raised so their fur looked like bear fur, not sleek like a fisher.
posted by saucysault at 9:06 PM on April 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess I don't know. It definitely wasn't a beaver. The tail was all wrong. It doesn't look like any of the porcupine pictures I saw, but that does make the most sense. It definitely waddled. I would maybe even describe it as a plod. It wanted to leave, but it didn't seem particularly rushed. The area between our houses has lots of trees and we live near a highway that has woods, but I agree that a fisher probably has better choices than my house, so I really don't know. It was WAY bigger than a raccoon. It was very dark. At least if I see it again I'll have more information to pull from. Thanks, everyone!
posted by Bistyfrass at 10:03 PM on April 11, 2018

Fisher cats are very skinny, and fast and graceful- they definitely don't waddle. They're essentially ferrets / weasels. Long and thin like a furry snake.

Raccoons do kind of waddle, but in a more humpy, up and down kind of way, not side to side so much. And they tend to look grey rather than black.

My vote is for a porcupine. They definitely waddle their big waddly butts, and are wide and bushy. Their quills are buried in thick black fur and they have long tails.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:10 PM on April 11, 2018

I've never seen a porcupine move fast, plod is a good way to describe their movement. They don't seem to fear predators (I've gotten close enough to touch, standing upright in a clear field where I could easily been seen, and have gotten no reaction - thank goodness!) and the ones around my yard seem to prefer barreling noisily through the bush instead of going around sticks and plants etc. I often find them in my trees, breaking branches as they climb.
posted by saucysault at 1:08 AM on April 12, 2018

The fact that it moved slowly definitely supports the porcupine hypothesis. Almost all animals will run away as fast as they can once they notice a human is near, but "running" isn't really in porcupines' vocabulary. They rely on being much too spiky to eat, instead. Porcupines don't hurry.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:59 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Is it possible that it was wide because it was pregnant? Whatever it was, maybe adjust for that.
posted by amtho at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2018

Raccoons can be surprisingly large. I have definitely seen some in the city (where trash is abundant) larger than what you describe (I heard it behind me and thought I was about to be mugged - big enough to make that much noise!)

I have seen groundhogs varying in color as well -- maybe spring shedding bringing out the undercoat?
posted by pixiecrinkle at 7:50 AM on April 13, 2018

From everything you are describing, I'm on Team Porcupine. They can be big, lumbering, IDGAF, types and can absolutely resemble small bears/cubs if their quills are down.
posted by RhysPenbras at 8:20 AM on April 18, 2018

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