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Over 25,000 sharp pointed quills cover the porcupine’s body, protecting this slow-moving animal from its enemies. The barbed quills are loosely attached to the skin and can grow up to three inches long. Many inexperienced predators have learned the hard way and have suffered and died because of the porcupine’s quills.
The coat of a porcupine is brown with white hair mixed in. The quills are black and yellow. Porcupines’ bright-orange teeth gnaw and eat wooden handles of tools, shoes, gloves, steering wheels, canoe paddles, and even glass. Their main food is bark and conifer needles in the winter and a variety of plants, grass, berries, and small shoots in the summer. They also like to gnaw on shed antler.
Mainly nocturnal, porcupines prefer mixed forest areas, but sometimes their habitat includes open tundra and pastures. Their well-designed claws and feet help them balance themselves well. They are excellent climbers, observed as high as 20 feet (6 m) up a tree. They den on the ground in logs or rock crevices. There may be several dens with well-worn trails leading back and forth.
Porcupines rely on their keen hearing and excellent sense of smell for survival but have poor eyesight. A threatened porcupine bristles up its back and lashes repeatedly with its tail at its enemy. If the predator attacks, it receives a nose and mouth full of sharp quills. The barbs keep working deeper into the animal’s skin. The predator can starve or die of infection if they can’t free themselves from the quills.
There are few predators who have learned to flip the porcupine on its back and attack the soft stomach that is free of quills. The fisher, along with the wolverine and cougar, are a few of the porcupine’s predators.
After mating in the fall, porcupines bear a single baby in the spring. The baby is weaned in about four weeks and fully mature at 18 to 30 months.
A misleading concept regarding the porcupine is that it can throw its quills. It cannot. Some porcupines are hunted by man for meat.
Rodentia • Erethizontidae • Erethizon dorsatum
Weight: 40 pounds (18 kg)
Length: 28 inches (70 cm)
Life Span: 15–17 years
Special Design Feature: The porcupine is covered with over 25,000 sharp, pointed quills on its body.
Did You Know? Porcupines are excellent tree climbers with very well-designed claws and feet.