North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)  


Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family:    Erethizontidae
Size:    Length: 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 cm)
Weight: 8 to 40 pounds (3.6 to 18 kg)
Diet: Bark, sap, shrubs and other plants
Distribution: Canada and the United States
Young:  1 every year
Animal Predators:  Fishers, wolverines, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats and great horned owls
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: No special terms
Lifespan: 5 to 10 years



·      Full-grown porcupines may have as many as 30,000 quills.

·      Native Americans use porcupine quills to decorate their costumes and jewellery.

·      Porcupines crave salt and may gnaw on canoe paddles or axe handles for the salt from perspiring humans.

·      Porcupines are excellent swimmers—their hollow quills keep them buoyant.

·      A common misconception is that porcupines can shoot quills at enemies. 

·      The porcupine’s scientific name means “one who rises in anger.”



Along with quills, porcupines are covered in coarse fur. The quills rise when they feel threatened. Although their face is the only visibly unprotected area, they have no quills on the soles of their feet or on their undersides. They have a blunt snout and dark eyes. Their ears are small, and their legs and tail are short. Porcupines have poor eyesight, but good hearing and sense of smell, and tend to be fairly clumsy.



North American porcupines live all across Canada and the United States, including Alaska. They can also be found in northern Mexico. Because of their sedentary nature, porcupines tend to occupy the same area for years. They live primarily in wooded areas. In the winter, they stay in caves, decaying logs or hollow trees. They move slowly, and tend to have several dens within their home range. 


Feeding Habits

Their diet consists of bark, sap, shrubs and other plants. They are mainly nocturnal, but sometimes forage for food during the day. 



During mating season, which occurs from fall to early winter, males compete with each other, engaging in fierce battles, biting and driving quills into each other. Although other animals find these quills impossible to remove, porcupines are quite adept at removing the quills from their own skin. Males only spend time with females during mating season, and then they go off on their own again. Females give birth in spring after a gestation period of 205 to 217 days, and have one offspring per year. The young are born with hair and soft quills covering their bodies. They can walk almost immediately and learn to climb within days. They stay with their mother for six months and reach sexual maturity at 16 to 24 months. 



Porcupines tend to be solitary, although they are not antisocial—they do not mind other porcupines eating from the same tree or within the same area. When approached by an enemy, porcupines become fierce and will swing their tail until contact is made. However, porcupines are not aggressive animals and will not attack if let alone. Animals who attack porcupines and get quills embedded in their flesh are vulnerable to infection and may even die from their wounds. There are over 20 different species of porcupines in the world, but only the American ones can climb trees. Although mainly terrestrial, porcupines may climb trees for food, as well as to get away from predators; when a predator approaches, climbing a tree is preferred over an aggressive encounter. 



North American porcupines are not a conservation concern.



North American Porcupine Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US