|North American Porcupine
Erethizon dorsatum [er uh thI
zun dor' sah tum]
This large member of the rodent
family reaches a length of up to 3 feet (males)
and a weight of up to 20 pounds. Its
yellowish-brown quills are 2 to 3 inches long,
and its fur is brownish-black. Although it cannot
"shoot" its quills as some commonly
believe, the porcupine's quills are loosely
attached and therefore detach easily when a
potential predator tries to grab a bite. The
quills are quite sharp at the tips and can
inflict a lot of damage and be quite painful,
thus deterring all but the most persistent
Largely an inhabitant of
forested areas, the North American porcupine
prefers rocky areas, ridges, and slopes. It is
found throughout much of North America, from the
Arctic Circle into northern Mexico.
Habits and Behaviors
Porcupines are expert
tree-climbers, and are as much at home in the
trees as on the ground. They are also good
swimmers, as their hollow quills help to keep
Females maintain a territory,
and defend it against other females. Male
territories typically overlap those of several
females, but the territories of dominant males
rarely overlap. Juvenile males settle as
permanent residents in the area of their birth,
with their territories expanding in size as they
mature. Females disperse from the area of their
birth prior to reaching sexual maturity.
Porcupines are generally
solitary, although there is some sharing of dens
in the winter.
Herbaceous ground vegetation
makes up the bulk of the porcupine's diet in the
summer and spring, with tree-gathered vegetation
forming the bulk of the fall and winter diet.
Throughout the year the porcupine is more of a
browser than a grazer. Most feeding is at night.
Breeding takes place in late
summer and early fall. One, occasionally two,
young are born after a gestation period of about
210 days. Young porcupines are born with
well-developed quills and fully-functional eyes
and ears, and are capable of feeding on
vegetation soon after birth.
Porcupines mature slowly as
compared with most other rodents, with females
not reaching sexual maturity until their second
fall. They also have a relatively long life span,
with individual animals capable of reaching an
age of 10 years or more in the wild.
Genus and Species Erethizon dorsatum
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