North Amercian Porcupine

North Amercian Porcupine


North America, from northern Alaska to Newfoundland to northern Mexico and Tennessee


Porcupines prefer forests with both hardwood and softwood trees, though they may be found in desert chaparral in northern Mexico.


North American porcupines are in the rodent family. They are characterized by a round body with small ears and short legs. Four long claws and a vestigial thumb on the fore paws, and five in back along with specialized pad, allow for easy climbing on both large trunks and tiny branches. The palms and soles of porcupine’s feet have no fur and have a pebbly surface. This texture increases the surface area and thus the friction while in contact with a branch, helping them to hold on and climb.

The North American porcupine has only 20 teeth: one incisor, one premolar and three molars in each jaw. The sharp, chisel-like incisors grow their entire life. The spaces between incisors and premolars allow the animals to draw in the lips while gnawing. While very nearsighted, porcupines have keen senses of smell, hearing and touch.

They are most famous for their defensive quills, which may number as many as 30,000. The quills are modified hairs with barbed tips on the ends. Quills are solid at the tip and base and hollow for most of the shaft. The porcupine has quills on all parts of its body, except for its snout, throat, belly and foot pads. The longest quills are on its rump. The shortest quills are on its cheeks. Its name comes from Latin for "swine" and "thorn."

North Amercian Porcupine

Porcupines are generally solitary although they may spend the winter in a den with other porcupines. They choose caves, decaying logs and hollow trees most commonly for den sites. They are not true hibernators but will stay in their dens during inclement weather.

They are surprisingly good swimmers, using their hollow quills like a life preserver to keep afloat. They are also excellent tree climbers and spend most of their time high in trees. The strong and barbed tail acts as a fifth leg for climbing, as well as a tripod-like prop for sitting upright.

They are very vocal animals and have a wide-variety of calls including moans, grunts, coughs, wails, whines, shrieks and tooth clicking.

They use their quills for defense, and contrary to popular belief, they do not shoot or throw them. When a predator approaches, the porcupine will turn its back, raise the quills and lash out at the threat with its tail. If the porcupine hits an animal with its quills, the barbed tips become embedded in the animal. Body heat and moisture from the predator’s body makes the barbs expand and they become even more deeply embedded in the animal\\\\\\\'s skin. By nature, porcupines are not aggressive animals and will only attack if threatened. Quills may cause death if they puncture a vital organ or if a muzzle full of quills leads to starvation.


Mating occurs in the late summer and early fall. To find the perfect mate, males and females vocalize loudly. The males will often fight over the females and the winner will perform an elaborate courtship dance that includes spraying urine over the head of the female.

After 205 to 215 days the female gives birth to a single baby, called a porcupette. The baby weighs about one pound and is roughly 10 inches long. At birth, its eyes are open and it has its teeth. At birth the quills are soft, but they quickly harden and are fully functional within an hour.

The porcupette is quite mobile and follows its mother. It nurses for about two month but begins eating solid food after only a few days. The baby will stay with its mother for about six months. It reaches full size in three to four years.

Interesting Facts:

The North American porcupine is second only to the beaver as the largest rodent native to this continent.

North Amercian Porcupine

Although not endangered, they often fall victim to cars. They are considered pests in some areas because they feed on trees.

North Amercian Porcupine
Native Utah Animal
Class: mammals
Order: Rodentia
Family: Erethizonidae
Genus: Erethizon
Species: dorsatum
Length: Adult length measures 37-51 inches including tail.
Height: Shoulder height: Up to 12 inches (30 cm)
Weight: Adults generally weigh 7-15 pounds; however, large males may weigh as much as 40 pounds
Average Lifespan: Up to 10-15 years in the wild.
Wild Diet: They feed year-round on a diet of the bark and the cambium layer of many different trees. In the spring and summer they also consume grasses, buds, twigs, roots, leaves, flowers, seeds and an assortment of other vegetation. In the winter, their diet is primarily conifer needles and bark. To supplement their diet, they will chew on bones and antlers which have a high mineral content.
Zoo Diet: rodent chow, fruits, vegetables, and greens.
Predators: Bobcats, cougars, coyotes, wolves, wolverines and fishers prey on porcupines. Great horned owls prey on young. The fisher is an especially successful predator. It attacks the porcupine’s soft snout, and then flips the porcupine over exposing its belly.
Where at the Zoo? Discoveryland: Woodland Edge

Learn more about mammals or animals from North America!
Or, cross-reference the two!