Animal Facts

North American Porcupine

Introduction

North American porcupines are small medium-sized animals. They live in the United States and Canada. They like to climb trees and have sharp needle-like projections protruding from their bodies.

North American porcupines live in a wide range of habitats. Their behaviors vary on where they live. They can tolerate colder temperatures than any other porcupine species.

North American porcupines are solitary animals. They only come together to raise a family and mate. They use chemical scents to mark territories and indicate mating status.

North American porcupines are herbivorous and eat only plants. They are able to eat a large variety of plants. They avoid predation by climbing up trees or rolling into balls.

Characteristics

Porcupines are not social creatures and usually live alone; however, they will sometimes share dens in the winter. They can also be seen in groups when foraging during the winter. This is thought to occur when food sources are very concentrated. Unlike other species of porcupines, North American porcupines are able to resist cold temperatures.

North American porcupines defend their territories from other porcupines. They usually do not leave their territories unless food is very scarce. When an invader enters a porcupine’s territory, they will chatter their teeth and showing black and white markings on their tails. This tells the intruder to leave or get ready to fight.

North American porcupines will use scents to mark their territories. They also use scents to let other porcupines now when to mate. They can also communicate vocally with high pitched screeches. Unlike other animals, female porcupines move away and males will stay.

North American porcupines have a very unique defense mechanism they use to avoid enemies. They are covered with long sharp quills (sharp needles). They will flash these quills to warn enemies to stay away. If the enemies do not leave, the porcupine can stick their enemies with these quills. These quills have hooks on the sides that make them very painful and hard to pull out. Each porcupine has around 30,000 quills.

Appearance

North American porcupines are the second largest rodent in North American after the North American beaver. They have a stocky form and they waddle when they walk. They have long sharp needles called quills that cover their heads, legs, back, and tail. These are colored with bright white tips to warn enemies to stay away.

North American porcupines do not have canine teeth. They are dark brown to black in color and have a black stripe on their lower back and center of their tail.

Life Stages

North American porcupines have three life stages. The first life stage is the juvenile life stage. This stage begins when a female porcupine gives birth to one or two juvenile porcupines after mating. Mating occurs during October and November. The pregnancy period is 205 to 217 days. This allows porcupines to be born in the springtime. Juveniles will get food from their mothers until they are around three months old. Juveniles stay with their mothers for a little as five months with females and up to one year in males. Females enter the adult stage before the males. Females become adults in 22 to 25 month and males become adults in 29 months. The adult stage is the final life stage.

Life Span

North American porcupines are long-lived animals. They can live up to 18 years in the wild if they are in good habitat. However, the average lifespan is six years. There is not any information available as to how long they can live in captivity.

Habitat

North American porcupines can live in a wide range of habitats. They live in deciduous (trees with leaves) forest in the eastern United States and Canada to the semi-arid dry regions in the southwestern United States. They are also able to live at a large range in elevation.

North American porcupines adapt their behavior to their environment. In New York porcupines spend most of their time climbing in trees. However, in locations without tall trees, they will spend more time on the ground.

Diet

North American porcupines are herbivorous and eat only plants. They eat a wide variety of plants that changes throughout the year depending on the plants chemistry. In the summer they will focus on feeding on high protein foods and spend very little time eating. However, in the fall and winter when food becomes scarce, they spend a considerable amount of time feeding.

North American porcupines eat a large variety of plants depending on where they live. In the southwestern United States, they will feed on the bark and needles of pinyon pine and Ponderosa pine trees. In the northeastern United States, they will feed on leaves of maple trees and beech trees. Their diet can vary considerable throughout the year and during the winter they will feed on more twigs and bark because other food sources are scarce. They will also feed on the salt left over on cars that has been applied to melt snow.

Friends and Enemies

North American porcupines are not very social animals and do not have many friends. They are only friend with other porcupines during the mating season and when females are raising juveniles. They will communicate with other porcupines through vocalizations and scent markings.

North American porcupines have several enemies. Bobcats, coyotes, wolves, cougars, mink, lynx, wolverines, and owls are all enemies of porcupines. They will attack porcupines of all stages. Porcupines will use their sharp quills as a defense mechanism against being attacked; however, this is not always successful. People are also enemies of porcupines. People consider porcupines as pests and will poison and attack them in other ways. People also destroy habitat of porcupines.

Suitability as Pets

North American porcupines would likely not be suitable pets. Although, you can keep them as pets in several states with proper permits. They would not make good pets because they have sharp quills that can stick their owners. They also have very unique food requirements that would make them hard to feed. They require diets that are high in nitrogen and salt. These characteristics mean that it would be hard to keep a porcupine as a pet.

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