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The porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is the second largest rodent in North America behind the beaver. Its spiny quills, used for defense, make it a very recognizable creature and one not to be tormented. There are about 30 different species of porcupine throughout the world, with the common North American porcupine arriving around 3 million years ago.

North American porcupines primarily live in the coniferous forests located in the Northwest part of the continent. At up to 35lbs in weight they are quite large for a rodent and their eyesight is poor. They usually den in a rocky area or a hole in a tree, and in summer months they will often sleep in trees.

Porcupines have thousands of quills, which are spiny hairs that lay down most of the time, but can be raised to protect the animal if it feels threatened. If struck, the quills easily detach from the porcupine’s body and can become lodged in the attacker. It has been documented that predatory animals such as wolves and fishers have actually died due to wounds from porcupine quills, most likely due to infection.

With such an effective defense system the porcupine has no need for the safety of a herd and can thus live a very solitary life. Primarily nocturnal, porcupines spend most nights eating twigs, roots, stems and vegetation in the summer months and eat pine needles and tree bark in the winter. Far from graceful, porcupines frequently fall out of trees. Being fairly heavy and tempted by vegetation on small branches, it is not uncommon for a porcupine to take a tumble.

Porcupines breed once per year in the fall, and usually give birth to one offspring each spring. When the young porcupine is born its quills are soft, but they harden within just a few hours of life. The young porcupine will stay with its mother for roughly six months before becoming independent.



  • Porcupines are the only animal in North America with antibiotics in their skin. This protects them from infection in case they are stuck with one of their own quills.
  • Porcupines are very selective eaters and will often only feed exclusively on one or two trees in an entire forest.
  • The porcupine is one of only two animals in North America that is black and white. The other is the skunk.




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