Agile and armed, although they may seem
slow, a porcupine is quick to make its point
with its defensive quills. Porcupines do not throw
or cast their quills into a potential predator; instead,
quills penetrate a predator's body on contact
with the porcupine's prickly body. The more
than thirty thousand quills on a porcupine's back
and sides are actually modified hairs (one of the
characteristics of mammals). Other common
names of porcupines are quillpig and pricklepig.
North American porcupines are arboreal or
semiarboreal, spending much of their day climbing
trees and consuming tree bark. These herbivores
ingest a variety of plant materials, from
buds to roots. On occasion, porcupines may eat
shed antlers of deer or elk for the various minerals,
such as calcium, that they contain.
Second in size only to the beavers in the class
Rodentia, adults porcupines weigh between four
and six kilograms, although much larger ones
have been reported. The length attained by adults
ranges from about sixty to one hundred centimeters.
While color variations occur, most individuals
have dark colored pelage. Porcupines are
mostly nocturnal, butmaybe observed during the
day either on the ground or in trees.
Porcupine Life Cycle
Adult porcupines are solitary mammals for most of the year, except during the breeding season, between September and November. Female porcupines begin reproductive activities at about 1.5 years of age. It is common to find several males around a female during her brief (eight- to twelvehour) time of receptivity. Mating is brief and occurs on the ground, with the female raising her tail over her back. After the male has inseminated her, each porcupine goes its separate way. Usually only one porcupette, as the young are sometimes called, is born after the lengthy gestation period.Weighing between four hundred and five hundred grams at birth, newborn porcupines are quite precocial. Their eyes are open and their quills are present, as are their incisors and premolar teeth. Although capable of consuming vegetation within a week of birth, the young are nursed by their mother through the summer months. Porcupines consume the inner bark of trees and shrubs, especially in the fall and winter when the plants on the ground are becoming dormant or dying. It is easy to observe porcupine feeding sites in the forests by observing the limbs and trunks of trees. If the outer bark has been stripped away, the whitish colored areas beneath are quite apparent. During the spring and early summer, porcupines spend more time on the ground feeding on tender shoots and buds of emerging plants. While their vision is not acute, their olfactory (smell) and auditory (hearing) senses are well developed. Some researchers have reported observing porcupines standing up on their hind legs and sniffing their surroundings. If a porcupine detects a potential predator, it will form a defensive posture of lowered head and back, at the same time raising the tail for swinging. The heavy muscular tail can drive quills deep into a predator's face and head.
Genus and species: Erethizon dorstaum
Geographical location: North American porcupines are found throughout Canada, extending into the northeastern and western United States; South American porcupines live in the tropical rain forests of South and Central America; various other porcupine species live in Africa and Asia
Habitat: Ranges from tropical rain forests to deserts; some inhabit coniferous and deciduous forests, while others live in grasslands
Gestational period: Averages 211 days
Life span: Five to six years in the wild, ten to twelve years in captivity
Special anatomy: Quills
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