- The porcupine is the second largest North American rodent; only the beaver is larger. Weighing in at 10 to 25 pounds , the porcupine has a small face , a thick body and a short, clublike tail. It is famous for its hairs , which have been modified into quills. (Ref. 109946)
- Quills are never thrown; respect for them stems from their design. The sharp end of a quill is covered with shingle-lapped barbs . When a quill is embedded in tissue , the small barbs expand. As the muscle fibers of the victim contract, the quill is pulled deeper into the tissue.
Click on the language to view common names.
Common Names in English:
common porcupine, North American Porcupine, porcupine
Common Names in French:
Porc-, porc-Ã©pic d'AmÃ©rique, porc-épic d'Amérique
Common Names in Spanish:
Puercoesp, PuercoespÃn norteamericano, Puercoespín norteamericano
Species Erethizon dorsatum
of common porcupines is usually dark brown. The dorsal
region of the porcupine is covered with thick, sharp, barbed
which are distributed among stiff guard hairs
and wooly underfur,
however there is variation
in the color of a porcupine's hair throughout
its geographic range
. Most porcupines weigh 3 to 7 kg
. but a large
male can weigh up to 18kg. Porcupines have heavy bodies with small
, small ears, short legs
, and a short thick tail. The animal's
feet are heavy with naked soles
The front feet have four toes while the hind feet have five toes. Each toe has a strong curved claw this is an adaptation to help the porcupine in his forage for food.
Because the porcupine cannot run fast nor appears very intimidating in size or appearance another special adaptation of the porcupine is its quills which are to help the porcupine defend itself from predators . The number of quills on each porcupine may exceed 30,000. Each one of the modified hairs is tipped with microscopic barbs that cause the quill to be continually driven into the muscle of predators. The longest quills are located on the animal's rump ; the shortest are found on the cheeks.
Adults live up to 17 years -- unusually long for a rodent.
coniferous , and mixed forests , open tundra , rangeland, and deserts.
Typically found at an altitude of 0 to 3,180 meters (0 to 10,433 feet).
Porcupines are found in a variety of habitats
including dense forests
, grasslands and desert shrub
The diet is also generalized, but shows a marked difference between winter and summer seasons . Winter foods are primarily the bark , cambium and phloem of trees such as eastern and western hemlock, sugar maple, and Douglas fir. Porcupines will often feed heavily on a single tree, causing extensive damage or death . In the spring the diet shifts as porcupines begin feeding on roots , steams , leaves, berries , seeds and grasses. This species is primarily nocturnal and does not hibernate (Woods 1973).
Reproduction occurs during fall or early winter. Following a relatively long gestation , females give birth to one young in spring or early summer. Litters of more than 1 are uncommon (Woods 1973). An individual North American porcupine may have as many as 30,000 quills, measuring 7.5 cm long, which are used for defense purposes. Typical defense behavior is backing up towards the predator , swinging the tail, which has a high concentration of quills..
List of Habitats:
- 1 Forest
- 1.1 Forest - Boreal
- 1.4 Forest - Temperate
- 3 Shrubland
- 3.4 Shrubland - Temperate
- 4 Grassland
- 4.1 Grassland - Tundra
- 4.4 Grassland - Temperate [more info]
Entirely vegetarian, evergreen
, buds, tender
, stems, leaves, flowers, berries
, nuts, and other vegetation.
Porcupines are also known to gnaw on bones and antlers from the ground
due to their high mineral content.
The summer diet consists primarily of grasses, forbs , and aquatic plants . In the winter the porcupine switches to the inner bark of conifers and hardwoods . Apple and cherry orchards can be severely damaged by porcupines. Because porcupines also are attracted by plywood bonding glue, destruction of plywood signs and structures can ensue. Their preference for salt leads them to chew seat covers , backpacks, and axe handles that have absorbed perspiration.
Females bear a single offspring, which is covered with soft quills
that harden shortly after birth.
Females become mature at about 18 months. A very interesting and detailed courtship takes place involving extreme vocalization, a very elaborate and somewhat comical dance , and then after the dance the male showers the female with urine. Females bear single precocial offspring, or rarely, twins, after a gestation period of 7 months.
Breeding occurs in the fall , accompanied by high-pitched screams from fighting males and nonreceptive females. Battles have been observed in which both combatants incurred vicious bites and hundreds of quills. A porcupine will meticulously remove a foreign quill, using its incisors and dexterous forefeet, but battles between porcupines can be fatal. 
The female bears one pup in the spring . The quills are soft at birth, but they dry and harden quickly and are soon functional. The pup adds vegetation to its diet at about a week after birth, but probably continues to nurse through the summer.
Solitary, but some may den together in the winter.
Some states have introduced
(marten) in areas with porcupine
problems. The fisher will slash and harass the face
of a porcupine
until the victim is helpless. Fishers eat the carcass
but leave the
The pugnacious porcupine has only one other effective predator , and that is man. It is neither the rifle nor the trap that takes many porcupines. It is the lure of road salt: A pigeon-toed fat body is not adept ad dodging cars .
- Whittaker & Margulis,1978
- C. Linnaeus, 1758
- (Hatschek, 1888) Cavalier-Smith, 1983
- Grobben, 1908
- (Haeckel, 1874) Cavalier-Smith, 1998
- Bateson, 1885
- Cuvier, 1812
- Jawed Vertebrates
- Goodrich, 1930
- C. Linnaeus, 1758
- (Rowe, 1988) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- (Wible et al., 1995) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- McKenna, 1975
- McKenna, 1975
- McKenna, 1975
- (McKenna, 1975) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- (Parker & Haswell, 1897) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- (Owen, 1837) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- (Mckenna, 1975) M.c. Mckenna & S.k. Bell, 1997
- (McKenna, 1975) McKenna, in Stucky & McKenna, in Benton, ed., 1993
- (Szalay & McKenna, 1971) McKenna, 1975
- (Weber, 1904) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Bowdich, 1821
- Woods, 1976
- Tullberg, 1899
- Series: href="http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/title/493 ()
- Infraorder: Hystricognathi () - Tullberg, 1899
- Suborder: Hystricognatha () - Woods, 1976
- Order: Rodentia () - Bowdich, 1821 - Rodents
- Mirorder: Simplicidentata () - (Weber, 1904) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Grandorder: Anagalida () - (Szalay & McKenna, 1971) McKenna, 1975
- Superorder: Preptotheria () - (McKenna, 1975) McKenna, in Stucky & McKenna, in Benton, ed., 1993
- Magnorder: Epitheria () - (Mckenna, 1975) M.c. Mckenna & S.k. Bell, 1997
- Cohort: Placentalia () - (Owen, 1837) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Supercohort: Theria () - (Parker & Haswell, 1897) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Infralegion: Tribosphenida () - (McKenna, 1975) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Sublegion: Zatheria () - McKenna, 1975
- Legion: Cladotheria () - McKenna, 1975
- Superlegion: Trechnotheria () - McKenna, 1975
- Infraclass: Holotheria () - (Wible et al., 1995) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Subclass: Theriiformes () - (Rowe, 1988) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Class: Mammalia () - C. Linnaeus, 1758
- Superclass: Tetrapoda () - Goodrich, 1930
- Infraphylum: Gnathostomata () - auct. - Jawed Vertebrates
- Subphylum: Vertebrata () - Cuvier, 1812 - Vertebrates
- Phylum: Chordata () - Bateson, 1885 - Chordates
- Infrakingdom: Chordonia () - (Haeckel, 1874) Cavalier-Smith, 1998
- Branch: Deuterostomia () - Grobben, 1908
- Subkingdom: Bilateria () - (Hatschek, 1888) Cavalier-Smith, 1983
- Kingdom: Animalia () - C. Linnaeus, 1758 - animals
Erethizon dorsata • Erethizon dorsata Linnaeus, 1758
Status: Accepted Name
Last scrutiny: 19-Apr-2001
Members of the genus Erethizon
ZipcodeZoo has pages for 3 species and subspecies in this genus:
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Accessed through GBIF Data Portal November 26, 2007:
- Berkeley Natural History Museums, University of California Museum of Paleontology DiGIR provider
- Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Vertebrate specimens
- Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, Mammal specimens
- Marine Science Institute, UCSB, Paleobiology Database
- Michigan State University Museum, Vertebrate specimens
- Museum of Texas Tech University
- , Mammal specimens
- Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Terrestrial vertebrate specimens
- Royal Ontario Museum, Mammal specimens
- Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Mammal Collection
- University of Alaska Museum of the North, University of Alaska Museum Mammal Collection
- University of Alaska Museum of the North, University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology Mammal Collection
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
- , Mammal specimens
- University of Minnesota Bell Museum of Natural History, Mammal specimens
- University of Washington Burke Museum, Mammal Specimens
- Biodiversity Heritage Library NamebankID: 106410
- Catalogue of Life Accepted Name Code: ITS-180393
- Global Biodiversity Information Facility Taxonkey: 13808286
- Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) Taxonomic Serial Number (TSN): 180393
- IUCN ID: 208119
- Natural Heritage Network Species Identifier: AMAFJ01010
- Zipcode Zoo Species Identifier: 4891
- New Mexico Wildlife. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Version of April 24, 2009. [back]
- Mean = 1,268.340 meters (4,161.220 feet), Standard Deviation = 725.890 based on 431 observations. Altitude information for each observation from British Oceanographic Data Centre. [back]
- Linzey, A.V., Emmons, L. & Timm, R. 2008. Erethizon dorsatum. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 31 January 2012. [back]