North American Porcupine

The North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), also known as Canadian Porcupine or Common Porcupine, is a large rodent in the New World porcupine family. The Beaver is the only other rodent larger than the North American Porcupine found in North America.

This animal is usually found in coniferous and mixed forested areas. They are in Canada, Alaska and much of the northern and western United States. They are also found in thicketed areas in shrub lands, tundra and deserts. They are as far south as northern Mexico. It makes its den in a hole in a tree or in a rocky area.

Porcupines are usually dark brown or black in color, with white highlights. They have a chunky body, a small face, short legs and a short thick tail. Their upper parts are covered with thousands of sharp, barbed hollow spines or quills. They use these for defense. Porcupines do not throw their quills, but the quills detach easily and the barbs make them difficult to remove once lodged in an attacker. The quills are normally flattened against to the body unless the animal is disturbed. The porcupine also swings its quelled tail towards a perceived threat.

Porcupines are mainly active at night. On summer days, they often rest in trees. During the summer, they eat twigs, roots, stems, berries and other vegetation. In the winter, they mainly eat conifer needles and tree bark. They do not hibernate but sleep a lot and stay close to their dens in winter. The strength of the porcupine’s defense has given it the ability to live a solitary life.

Porcupines breed in the fall and the young porcupine (usually one) is born in the spring. It has soft quills that harden within a few hours after birth.

They are considered by some to be as a pest because of the damage that they often inflict on trees and wooden and leather objects. The quills are used by Native Americans to decorate articles such as baskets and clothing. Some people consider porcupines to be edible. They move slowly and are often hit by vehicles while crossing roads. Natural predators include fishers, wolverines, coyotes, and mountain lions.

The porcupine is the only native North American mammal with antibiotics in its skin. Those antibiotics prevent infection when a porcupine falls out of a tree and is stuck with its own quills upon hitting the ground. Porcupines fall out of trees fairly often because they are highly tempted by the tender buds and twigs at the ends of the branches