North American Porcupine | Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures

North American Porcupine | Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures

North American Porcupine Overview


The North American porcupine is a medium-sized rodent covered in distinctive quills. Its body is stout and covered in coarse, dark brown to blackish fur, with a robust build. Porcupines have a round face with a blunt snout, small eyes, and large, rounded ears.

They possess a long, prehensile tail. The most striking feature is its quills, which are sharp, rigid, and barbed, covering the back, sides, and tail, serving as a formidable defense mechanism when threatened.

Origins And Evolution

The North American porcupine, scientifically known as Erethizon dorsatum, is a species with ancient origins among rodents. It belongs to a family of porcupines, Erethizontidae, that dates back to the Paleocene epoch, approximately 60 million years ago.

These primitive porcupines had different ecological roles and inhabited various regions globally. Over time, the North American porcupine evolved into a specialized herbivore, adapted to temperate forests and arboreal life.

Its evolutionary development includes the development of its iconic quills, which serve as a highly effective defense mechanism. Today, the North American porcupine stands as a unique and ancient representative of the rodent family.

Behavior and Lifestyle

The North American porcupine is a primarily nocturnal and solitary creature. It spends its nights foraging for a herbivorous diet consisting of leaves, twigs, bark, and plant matter. These porcupines are skilled climbers and are often found in trees, using their prehensile tails and strong claws for navigation.

When threatened, they raise their quills as a formidable defense, potentially deterring predators with the painful barbed quills. They are generally calm and slow-moving but can become aggressive when cornered or provoked.

North American Porcupine Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Rodentia
  • Family: Erethizontidae
  • Genus: Erethizon
  • Species: dorsatum

North American Porcupine Locations

  • Canada
  • United States
  • Mexico

Fast Facts

  • Name: Porcupine
  • Scientific Name: Erethizon dorsatum
  • Habitat: Forested Regions
  • Diet: Herbivorous Feeder
  • Physical Features: Quill-covered Rodent
  • Nocturnal: Primarily Nocturnal
  • Solitary: Mostly Solitary
  • Unique Order: Rodentia Order
  • Lifespan: 5-7 Years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Facts: Tree-dwelling Climber

Physical Characteristics

  • Color: Brown Fur
  • Skin Type: Quill-covered Body
  • Top Speed: Slow Mover
  • Lifespan: 5-7 Years
  • Weight: Medium Build
  • Length: Short Limbs
  • Age of Sexual Maturity: 1-2 Years
  • Age of Weaning: 2-3 Months

American Porcupine FAQs

Are porcupines related to hedgehogs?

No, porcupines and hedgehogs are not closely related.

Do porcupines shoot their quills?

No, porcupines cannot shoot their quills. Quills are modified hairs that are loosely attached and can be raised when the porcupine feels threatened.

Are porcupines aggressive?

Porcupines are generally not aggressive but can become defensive when they feel threatened. They may display aggression by hissing, vocalizing, and erecting their quills.

Do porcupines eat trees and damage forests?

Porcupines are herbivores and primarily consume leaves, twigs, and bark. While they can damage trees, their feeding habits are part of the natural ecosystem and are typically not considered destructive.


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