Everything You Never Knew About Porcupines

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Until I met my first porcupine yesterday, my knowledge about these creatures was pretty limited.  Judging from the comments I received on the photos I posted on Facebook, I was not alone in my naïveté regarding porcupines.  They are pretty fascinating, so fascinating that I felt compelled to share what I learned!

  1. Porcupines are the second largest rodent in North America, weighing anywhere from 7-39 lbs, measuring 23-35 inches in length.  
  2. Their average lifespan is 18-20 years.
  3. Porcupines are usually dark brown or black in color, with white highlights. They have a stocky body, a small face, short legs, and a short, thick tail.
  4. Their unique and defining feature is their long, sharp quills that cover their bodies. These quills provide them with excellent defense against predators. An adult porcupine has about 30,000 quills that cover all of its body except its underbelly, face, and feet. Quills are modified hairs formed into sharp, barbed, hollow spines.
  5. Quills are used primarily for defense but also serve to insulate their bodies during winter. The quills are normally flattened against the body and in this position are less easily dislodged. Contrary to popular assumption, porcupines do not throw their quills.  Instead, when threatened they contract superficial muscles which cause the quills to stand up and out from their bodies. In this position, they become easier to detach from the body, especially when the tail is swung toward an attacker. The barbs at the end of the spines lodge in the flesh of a victim and are difficult and painful to remove.
  6. Quills of these animals possess a topical antibiotic, which helps prevent infection.  This is handy for the animal on the receiving end of a porcupines defense but the antibiotic is mainly intended for self-defense, in case the porcupine is accidentally pricked by its own quills.
  7. Porcupines fall out of trees fairly often because they are highly tempted by the succulent buds and tender twigs at the ends of the branches.
  8. The word 'porcupine' originates from 'porc espin', meaning ‘spined pig’ in Middle French. These animals were named 'quilled pigs' by Americans, but they are actually rodents, which aren't related to pigs.
  9. Porcupines are primarily nocturnal animals. During the day, they rest in trees or sheltered areas, avoiding direct sunlight. Porcupines are solitary creatures and spend the majority of their time foraging for food.
  10. Porcupines are generally solitary, mostly only interacting with other porcupines during the mating season.
  11. Speaking of mating....Porcupines reach sexual maturity at around two years of age. When the late summer arrives, the mating season begins. The male porcupine, driven by instinct, seeks out a female partner. He approaches her cautiously, making sure not to provoke any aggression. The courtship rituals involve gentle nuzzling, sniffing, and even sharing a meal together. These behaviors help establish a bond. Once the bond is formed, mating occurs. The female porcupine has a receptive period that lasts only a few hours, during which she allows the male to approach and mate with her. After mating, the male porcupine usually leaves, and the female resumes her solitary life. Sort of a one-night stand, I'd say.
  12. Porcupines have a gestation period of around 210 days or 7 months.  Moms almost never carry more than one pup per pregnancy. The porcupette enters the world covered in soft, flexible quills that provide a certain level of protection. These quills harden within a few hours, becoming the iconic defense mechanism of the porcupine. Pups (porcupettes) are nursed for about 127 days.  Pups become independent around 5 months of age, while the age of reproductive maturity is 29 months old for males and 25 months old for females.
  13. Porcupines are agile climbers and can often be seen resting in trees during the day. This behavior not only provides them with a safe place to rest, but it also allows them to access food sources that may be out of reach for ground-dwelling animals.
  14. They primarily feed on bark, twigs, leaves, and fruits. Their diet consists mainly of plant material, making them herbivores.
  15. The North American porcupine has a strong odor to warn away predators, which it can increase when agitated. The smell has been described as similar to strong human body odor, goats, or some cheeses. The odor is generated by a patch of skin called the rosette, on the lower back where modified quills serve as osmetrichia to broadcast the smell.
  16. To watch a really cool four-minute video about these really cool creatures: Really Cool Porcupine Video and below are my own videos.

  1. Look at those claws!

    The white hair on his back is not quills, the quills are in his tail and rosette on his butt.

    This shows how high he was today and how miraculous I even saw him!

How high he was the first day I spotted him.

 So next time you're outside, look up!  You never know what you might find.  I just happened to look out my bedroom window and saw a big blob in the trees, assuming it might be an owl or hawk.   It was only when I got my binoculars that I realized it was a rodent.  I never realized they climbed trees!  Both mornings I spotted him, he sat still for a bit, then as the sun rose higher, he slowly slithered down the tree, chomping leaves along the way.  I can't wait to see how long he sticks around and as long as he restricts his snacks to tree leaves in the woods and not in my garden, I'll be glad to share my 'forever wild' with him!  

For more information on porcupines, you can check out these great sites where I gathered my information. 

Wild Explained - Porcupines


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