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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Species Fact Profile: North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

North American Porcupine
Erethizon dorsatum (F. Cuvier, 1823)

Range: Canada, United States, Northern Mexico
Habitat: Deciduous and Coniferous Forest, Grassland, Desert
Diet: Bark, Twigs, Leaves, Roots and Tubers, Fruits, Nuts
Social Grouping: Solitary and Territorial
Reproduction: Breed once per year; males compete for females, and the victor will guard a female for a few days prior to estrous.  1 (sometimes 2) offspring born after a gestation period of 210 days, and are independent at 5 months.  Females are sexually mature at 25 months, males at 29 months.  Offspring are cared for by the female alone.
Lifespan: 18 Years
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern

  • The second-largest rodent in North America (after the American beaver), measuring 60-90 centimeters in length and weighing 5-14 kilograms.  Males are larger than females
  • Fur is dark brown or black, with dorsal guard hairs and quills banded in yellow; the tail has a black stripe with quills fringed with white
  • Quills are relatively short (7 centimeters or so) with microscopic barbs on the tip, which cause them to lodged in predators.    Each porcupine has up to 30,000 quills
  • If threatened, a porcupine will try to escape by climbing a tree, or giving warning signs, such as tooth clicking.  It may use its quills defensively, or may charge backwards at a predator
  • Predators include bobcat, puma, wolf, coyote, and wolverine; one of the most important predators is the fisher, which will flip a porcupine over and attack the unprotected belly
  • The amount of time porcupines spend on the ground depends on how much ground cover is available; if there is not much cover (due to deer overpopulation, for example), they will spend more time in the trees
  • Although they are predominately solitary, with both sexes defending territories, porcupines at the northern part of their range will share winter dens, sometimes with 8 animals sharing
  • Their diet leads to strong salt longings, and they are easily attracted to human-provided salt sources, such as road salt
  • Seven subspecies are recognized across North America
  • Traditionally revered by Native North Americans as a source of quills, which were used in artworks and decoration, now teated by many as a pest due to their destruction of trees

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