Articles on this page are available in 1 other language: Spanish (7) (learn more)

Overview

Distribution

North American porcupines, Erethizon dorsatum, have the northern most range of all porcupines. They inhabit much of North America between the Arctic Ocean and northern Mexico. Porcupines are found throughout most of Alaska and Canada, in the northern part of the Great Lakes region, all throughout the west and northeast regions of the United States. Populations have been studied extensively in the eastern deciduous forests of New York and Massachusetts, the Great Basin Desert, and the woodlands of Texas.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Griesemer, S., T. Fuller, R. Degraaf. 1998. Habitat use by porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) in central Massachusetts: effects of topography and forest composition. The American Midland Naturalist, 140/2: 271-279.
  • Ilse, L., E. Hellgren. 2001. Demographic and behavioral characteristics of North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) in pinyon-juniper woodlands of Texas. The American Midland Naturalist, 146/2: 329-338.
  • Roze, U. 1989. The North American Porcupine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Sweitzer, R., S. Jenkins, J. Berger. 1997. Near-Extinction of porcupines by mountain lions and consequences of ecosystem change in the Great Basin Desert. Conservation Biology, 11/6: 1407-1417.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Range Description

Southern half of Canada, and northern and western United States, as well as scattered populations elsewhere in the eastern U.S. On the northern boundary of Mexico from the lower-middle Baja Peninsula east to the eastern border of mainland Mexico in a relatively straight line, but not in Baja or the Yucatan (Ceballos and Oliva 2005).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Range: Range extends from central Alaska eastward to southern Hudson Bay and Labrador, and south in eastern North America to the northeastern United States (New England, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Maryland, and formerly to Virginia and North Carolina) and in central and western North America to central Texas, northern Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and southern California (Rose and Ilse, in Feldhamer et al. 2003).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Geographic Range

North American porcupines, Erethizon dorsatum, have the northern most range of all porcupines. They are found throughout most of Alaska and Canada, in the northern part of the Great Lakes region, as well as throughout the west and northeast regions of the United States. Porupines in the forests of New York and Massachusetts, in the Great Basin Desert, and in the woodlands of Texas have been well studied.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Griesemer, S., T. Fuller, R. Degraaf. 1998. Habitat use by porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) in central Massachusetts: effects of topography and forest composition. The American Midland Naturalist, 140/2: 271-279.
  • Ilse, L., E. Hellgren. 2001. Demographic and behavioral characteristics of North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) in pinyon-juniper woodlands of Texas. The American Midland Naturalist, 146/2: 329-338.
  • Roze, U. 1989. The North American Porcupine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Sweitzer, R., S. Jenkins, J. Berger. 1997. Near-Extinction of porcupines by mountain lions and consequences of ecosystem change in the Great Basin Desert. Conservation Biology, 11/6: 1407-1417.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Physical Description

Morphology

Erethizon dorsatum is the second largest rodent in North America, outsized only by beavers. Individuals range in length from 600 to 900 mm, and weigh between 5 and 14 kg.

It is distinguished by its stout, slow, lumbering form and by its spiny coat. On the whole, porcupines appear dark brown to black, with dorsal guard hairs and spines that contain bands of yellow. Spines called quills extend from head to tail on the dorsal surface. The middle of the tail and lower back are marked by a black line. Quills on the black area are fringed with white. Because porcupines are nocturnal, the white on black markings stand out, alerting their mostly color blind nocturnal predators of the danger they present. This pattern is visible after porcupines are three months old.

Porcupine quills have microscopic barbs on the tip. They are usually around 75 mm long and 2 mm wide. Each animal has approximately 30,000 quills. If a quill becomes lodged in the tissues of a would-be attacker, the barbs act to pull the quill further into the tissues with the normal muscle movements of the attacker, moving up to several millimeters in a day. Predators have been known to die as a result of quill penetration and infection.

Skull characteristics include a lack of canine teeth and a dental pattern of 1/1, 0/0, 1/1, 3/3. The prominent diastema allows the lips to be drawn in while gnawing. Like other hystricomorphs, porcupines have unique chewing muscles. Efficient chewing movements are made possible by an arm of the masseter muscle, which passes through the infraorbital foramen.

Like the porcupines found in Central and South America, North American porcupines have arboreal adaptations including long claws (four in front with a vestigial thumb, and five in back). These claws, along with rather unique palms, allow for unproblematic navigation in trees. Porcupines can easily climb large trunks and surprisingly minute branches. The palms and soles of porcupines are naked with a pebbly surface. This texture increases the surface area and thus the friction while in contact with a branch. Associated with this adaptation, porcupines have a keenly developed sense of touch. This further aids them in their nocturnal navigation. It also allows porcupines to secure themselves in trees with their hind feet while manipulating food with their front appendages. Finally, the quills of porcupines prevent downward sliding while animals are grasping trees with their hind feet. The quills on the tail are used to stab the tree, further increasing fiction and stabilizing the animal in the tree.

A characteristic unique to E. dorsatum, compared to its Central and South American relatives, is adaptation to cold. No other hystricomorphs can withstand such high variance in temperature as North American porcupines can tolerate.

North American porcupines are sexually dimorphic, with males being larger than females. The size dimorphism is explained proximately by the faster growth rates and longer periods of growth which males experience relative to females. Because males with larger size have higher reproductive success than do smaller males, sexual selection promotes increased male size in this species.

Range mass: 5.000 to 14.000 kg.

Range length: 600 to 900 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Average basal metabolic rate: 13.675 W.

  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1997. Sexual dimorphism and evidence for intrasexual selection form quill impalements, injuries and mate guarding in porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 75: 847-854.
  • Vaughn, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy, Fourth Edition. USA: Brooks/Cole.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Physical Description

North American porcupines are the second largest rodent in North America. They weigh between 5 and 14 kg, and are 600 to 900 mm long. Only Castor canadensis are larger. Porcupines have a stout, slow, lumbering form and a spiny coat. They usually appear dark brown to black, although some of the hairs and spines on the backs of these animals are yellow.

Spines called quills are found on the backs of porcupines from the head to the tail. Many of their quills are fringed with white, which makes them stand out against the dark fur underneath. This white on black marking pattern warns even color-blind predators that porcupines are dangerous. Quills are usually 75 mm long and 2 mm wide. They have microscopic barbs on the tip which help them stick into a porcupine's enemies. Each porcupine has approximately 30,000 quills.

Porcupines have special adaptations to help them chew. They do not have canine teeth. This allows an animal to draw in its lips while gnawing. They also have a special arrangment of their jaw muscles which helps them to chew more efficiently.

All porcupines have long claws. These claws help them climb on both large tree trunks and surprisingly small branches. The palms and soles of porcupines have a pebbly surface and no fur. Along with their keen sense of touch, this special texture on the hands and feet improves a porcupine's grip. Because they are so good at gripping trees, porcupines can even stay in trees using only their hind feet to hold on. This frees their forelimbs for use in eating.

North American porcupines are special among their close relatives, because they are able to withstand cold. No other porcupines are able to tolerate such cold temperatures.

Male porcupines are larger than females. This is because bigger males are able to have more mates. Because of this, they have more offspring than smaller males do.

Range mass: 5.000 to 14.000 kg.

Range length: 600 to 900 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 13.675 W.

  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1997. Sexual dimorphism and evidence for intrasexual selection form quill impalements, injuries and mate guarding in porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 75: 847-854.
  • Vaughn, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy, Fourth Edition. USA: Brooks/Cole.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Size

Length: 93 cm

Weight: 18000 grams

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ecology

Habitat

Erethizon dorsatum uses a broad variety of habitats. With an extensive range, porcupines can be found in varied climates, and at varied elevations. Porcupines live in open tundra, deciduous forests, and desert chaparral. Porcupine habitat varies geographically. In the Pacific Northwest, these animals are primarily ground dwelling. In New York, porcupines are mainly tree dwellers. In Massachusetts, they spend 13% of their time on the ground.  The time porcupines spend on the ground is related to the amount of ground cover that exists for foraging and protection from predators. In places of deer overpopulation, ground cover can be scarce, thus keeping porcupines in the trees. Density of predators also determines time spent on the ground, because most porcupine predators are non-arboreal species. Porcupines will spend winter in dens, usually rock dens where available. When ground dens are not available, porcupines choose trees to rest in. Different trees are chosen for resting than for feeding. In eastern habitats, hemlocks are usually chosen over other conifers for both resting and feeding. These trees have superior thermal protection, sight protection (hemlocks have thick foliage), are stronger, and have higher nutritional value.

Southern populations of porcupines exhibit no seasonal use of trees. In southwestern Texas, porcupine populations both rest and feed in papershell pinyon pines (Pinus remota), as well as in oaks and other hardwood species. Porcupines in the Rocky Mountains feed primarily on ponderosa pines, and rest in dens on the ground. Similarly, porcupines in the Great Basin have been observed to use dens in rock outcroppings and juniper trees for cover during the winter. They travel between dens and small riparian areas to forage on tree bark, making them susceptible to predators.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; polar ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains

  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1992. Size-related effects of predation on habitat use and befavior of porcupines. Ecology, 73: 567-875.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Porcupines are found in a variety of habitats including dense forests, tundra, grasslands and desert shrub communities.

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.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Comments: Prefers coniferous and mixed forests; also inhabits riparian zones, grasslands, shrublands, and deserts in some parts of the range. Winter den may be in a rock outcrop, live hollow tree, hollow log, or outbuilding. May shelter in dense conifers in winter.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Porcupines use a variety of habitats. Because they are found throughout the continent of North America, porcupines can be found in many different climates, and at many elevations.

Porcupine habitat varies geographically. Porcupines live in open tundra, deciduous forest, and desert chaparral. In the Pacific Northwest, they spend most of their time on the ground. In New York, porcupines are found mostly in trees. In Massachusetts, they are found to spend 13% of their time on the ground.

The amount of time porcupines spend on the ground depends on how much groundcover there is for foraging and for protection from predators. When ground cover is scarce, porcupines spend more time in trees. Because most predators of porcupines live on the ground, porcupines also spend a lot of time in trees where predator populations are large.

Porcupines prefer to spend their winter rest time in in rock dens on the ground. When ground dens are not available, porcupines will choose trees as their resting positions. Porcupines usually choose different trees for feeding and for resting. In eastern habitats, hemlock trees are often chosen for both resting and feeding. Hemlocks are preferred because they have very thick foliage, which helps the porcupine to stay hidden. Hemlocks are also sturdy trees with high nutritional value.

In southwestern Texas, porcupines both feed and rest in papershell pinyon pines, as well as in oaks and other hardwood species. Porcupines in the Rocky Mountains feed primarily on ponderosa pines, and rest in dens on the ground. Similarly, porcupines in the Great Basin use dens in rock outcroppings and juniper trees for cover in the winter. They travel between dens and the areas near rivers to forage on tree bark. This travel makes them susceptible to predators.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; polar ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains

  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1992. Size-related effects of predation on habitat use and befavior of porcupines. Ecology, 73: 567-875.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Trophic Strategy

Porcupines are generalist herbivores. Diets vary throughout the year in response to minute changes in plant chemistry. Feeding rates also change seasonally. Throughout the spring and summer months, when high protein foods are readily available, feeding rates are reduced. However, in the autumn, feeding rates increase, probably in preparation for the winter scarcity of high quality forage.

Although typically a generalist, research has shown some selectivity between plants with higher nutrient content. However the amount of selectivity does not approach that shown by other specialized herbivores.

Selectivity varies between populations, with porcupines in some habitats showing more selectivity. Porcupines in the Rocky Mountains feed exclusively on ponderosa pine phloem, probably because this species dominates the ecosystem. Porcupines in eastern deciduous forests, however, feed on a number of different species of trees. In Massachussettes, porcupines were found rarely to feed on bark, whereas in Texas they forage largely on bark.

The crucial nutritional resource for porcupines is nitrogen. Winter sources of nitrogen include bark, twigs, and evergreen needles. These are relatively poor sources of nitrogen, so porcupines move continuously towards starvation, constantly loosing weight throughout the winter.

Porcupines are able to forage on low nitrogen, high fiber foods because of their unique ability to retain nitrogen from their food. This is done by reducing fecal nitrogen losses. The ability of porcupines to digest very high fiber foods better than some hindgut fermenters and ruminants may be due to the extended time food matter stays in the digestive system.

Dietary patterns of porcupines have been extensively studied in eastern deciduous forests. In the spring, they focus their feeding energy on the buds of sugar maple trees, a rich source of protein. As soon as the leaves flush out, the sugar maple is abandoned because leaves contain high amounts of tannins (chemicals toxic to porcupines). Porcupines move on to the cambium of basswood, aspen, and sapling beech trees. Understory beech trees contain much less tannin than adult trees, a trait a porcupine can easily ascertain. Aspen catkins are utilized for their high level of protein. Also ashes are fed upon heavily, because they are relatively easy to climb (compared to the smooth bark of beeches), and because they have relatively low tannin levels. Fall feeding abruptly changes when oak acorns and beech nuts become available. Porcupines feed on these nutrient packed meals before they have fallen to the ground. However, after the nuts have fallen, porcupines are out-competed by deer and squirrels. Mast years in nut producing trees have a direct effect on these herbivores. Winter foraging is focused on the phloem of hemlock, sugar maple, primarily within the canopy of these stands.

Other foods utilized by porcupines include raspberry stems, grasses, flowering herbs, and a large amount of apples. Herbivory has an effect on the sodium metabolism of porcupines, which results in a lust for salt. Porcupines will chew on the wooden handles of human tools, other human-made wood structures, and areas of collected roadside salt runoff.

Porcupine feeding happens primarily at night. This is related to changes in plant and leaf chemistry at night. Porcupines take advantage of the added nutrients available during the night-time metabolic processes of plants.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Granivore , Lignivore)

  • Felicetti, L., L. Shipley, G. Witmer, C. Robbins. 2000. Digestibility, nitrogen excretion, and mean retention time by North American porcupines (Erithizon dorsatum) consuming natural forages. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 73/6: 772-780.
  • Fournier, F., D. Thomas. 1997. Nitrogen and energy requirements of the North American porcupine. Physoilogical Zoology, 70/6: 615-620.
  • Snyder, M., Y. Linhart. 1997. Porcupine feeding patterns: Selectivity by a generalist herbivore?. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 75: 2107-2111.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Comments: Feeds on inner bark of trees and on evergreen needles in winter; buds in spring; roots, leaves, berries, fruits, and seeds in summer; mast and fruits in fall. Preferred tree species are hemlock and sugar maple in Northeast, white pine in Great Lakes, and yellow pine. In the northern Great Basin, depleted energy reserves early in winter and were stressed nutritionally during late winter (Sweitzer and Berger, 1993, J. Mamm. 74:198-203).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Food Habits

Porcupines are generalist herbivores, however their diet changes because of changes in plant chemistry. Feeding rates also change seasonally. In the spring and summer months feeding rates are reduced because plants contain a lot of protein. However, as the protein content of plants decreases in the autumn, feeding rates increase.

Different porcupine populations have different diets. Porcupines in the Rocky Mountains mostly eat ponderosa pine phloem. Porcupines in eastern forests feed on many different trees. In Massachussettes, porcupines rarely eat bark, but in Texas, they forage largely on bark.

The crucial nutritional resource for porcupines is nitrogen. In winter, porcupines get nitrogen from bark, twigs, and evergreen needles. Because these are not good sources of nitrogen, porcupines constantly loose weight throughout the winter.

Porcupines can forage on low nitrogen foods because they have a unique ability to retain nitrogen from their food. Porcupines can digest very high fiber foods because food stays in their digestive tract for a very long time, allowing them to extract nutrients from this food.

The diets of porcupines living in eastern deciduous forests have been well studied. In the spring, porcupines eat the buds of sugar maple trees, which are a rich source of protein. As soon as the leaves flush out, the sugar maple is abandoned because the leaves contain high amounts of tannins (chemicals toxic to porcupines). Porcupines begin to eat the cambium of basswood, aspen, and sapling beech trees. These contain a lot of protein and only a little tannin. Also ash trees are fed upon heavily, because they are relatively easy to climb (compared to the smooth bark of beeches), and because they have relatively low tannin levels. In the autumn when oak acorns and beech nuts become available, porcupines begin to feed on these. Porcupines are best a getting these nuts out of trees, and after the nuts have fallen to the ground, most of them are eaten by deer and squirrels. Winter foraging is focused on the phloem of hemlock and sugar maple trees.

Other foods utilized by porcupines include raspberry stems, grasses, flowering herbs, and a large amount of apples. Herbivory has an effect on the sodium metabolism of porcupines, which results in a lust for salt. Porcupines will chew on the wooden handles of human tools, other human-made wood structures, and areas of collected roadside salt runoff.

Porcupine feeding happens primarily at night. This is because of changes in plant and leaf chemistry at night. Porcupines take advantage of the added nutrients available during the night-time metabolic processes of plants.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers

  • Felicetti, L., L. Shipley, G. Witmer, C. Robbins. 2000. Digestibility, nitrogen excretion, and mean retention time by North American porcupines (Erithizon dorsatum) consuming natural forages. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 73/6: 772-780.
  • Fournier, F., D. Thomas. 1997. Nitrogen and energy requirements of the North American porcupine. Physoilogical Zoology, 70/6: 615-620.
  • Snyder, M., Y. Linhart. 1997. Porcupine feeding patterns: Selectivity by a generalist herbivore?. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 75: 2107-2111.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Associations

Porcupines of the Rocky Mountains prefer habitats on rocky, south facing slopes. This brings them into contact with wood ticks that share the same habitat. Wood ticks, Dermacentor andersoni, are the host of Colorado Tick Fever virus; however porcupines do little to spread this virus. This is because only adult ticks attach to porcupines, and adult ticks do not spread the virus. In one study, 18 porcupines yielded a total of 448 ticks.

Porcupines can generate stress on their environment, although their overall detrimental effect is usually largely over-emphasized (usually focused on their intrepid salt excursions). One example of porcupines adding a stress to their environment is in Texas, where they feed largely upon the bark of pinyon pines. It has been suggested that because of porcupine foraging, these trees have been made more vulnerable to the infestation of bark beetles.

Several factors have led to stresses on porcupine populations. In the Great Basin, near extinction of a population of porcupines was discovered to be a direct result of increased mountain lion predation. Increased predation may have been a result of low mule deer populations in the area. Increased predation on porcupines can also be a consequence of predator shifting when snowshoe hare numbers decline. Increased stress from natural predators signifies the fragile dynamics between porcupines and their environment. Historical studies have indicated a very cyclical fluctuation in populations of porcupines.

In northern Michigan, Fishers Martes pennanti were reintroduced to limit the porcupine population growth and nearly eliminated the species from the area. Limited den sites (standing hollow snags), brought about by logging practices, increased porcupine exposure to fishers. In the northeast, where hemlock plays a major role in porcupine winter foraging, pests such as the hemlock wooly adelgid, Adelges tsugae, along with increased hemlock logging may pose problems for future porcupine habitat.

  • Keith, L., J. Cary. 1991. Mustelid, squirrel, and porcupine population trends during a snowshoe hare cycle. Journal of Mammalogy, 72/2: 373-378.
  • McLean, R., A. Carey, L. Kirk, D. Francy. 1993. Ecology of porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) and Colorado tick fever virus in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1975-1977. Journal of Medical Entomology, 30/1: 236-238.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Porcupines possess a very unique defense system. A porcupine’s first line of defense is escaping from danger by climbing up a tree. However, if such an escape is not possible, the porcupine has many options. Porcupines are the only mammal in North America to use quills to deter predators. Around 30,000 quills are present on the dorsal side of a porcupine. Because loosing quills is very expensive to a porcupine, these animals have developed several warning signs to precede their use of their ultimate weapon.

First are the aposematic colorations on the animal. The white-tipped quills on a black band on the tail and back stand out, and warn possible assailants of danger. Second, porcupines emit an auditory warning: a quiet clattering of the teeth. If both visual and accoustic warnings fail, a porcupine will erect its quills, and simultaneously release a nasty scent. Quills are only used if the threat has not been deterred by these other means.

Porcupines use their quills in two ways, defensively (as a shield made of barbs) and offensively (when they are driven into the predator). Upon contact, the porcupine needs to quickly separate from the quills, and thus separate from the enemy, so they have evolved unique quill-release systems. Erect quills release easier from the porcupine after the quill has been pushed into the would-be assailant's body. The force is supplied by the contact with the would-be predator. Relaxed quills show no difference in release energy required.

Quills have a design that promotes their movement deeper into a predator once they have been embedded. The quills are not hollow, but are filled with a spongy matrix, which makes them very rigid and light.

Quills present some dangers to porcupines. Falling out of trees is quite common for porcupines, and self-impalement is definitely a hazard. Also, the force needed to remove the quills from the porcupine, after they are embedded in the assailant, may be larger than the weight of the porcupine, so separating may be problematic.

Even with this elaborate defense mechanism, porcupines are preyed upon by a couple of co-adapted predators. Several predators exist that at least have been known to kill a porcupine. The list includes lynx, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, wolverines, and great horned owls. Important predators include mountain lions and fishers Fishers will attack from the front repeatedly, avoiding the tail quills, until they are able to flip a porcupine on its back and attack the unprotected ventral surface. Mountain lions supposedly make no attempt to avoid the quills of porcupines; instead they attack at will and deal with the consequences. Predators tend to hunt and kill porcupines mostly in open habitats.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ecosystem Roles

Several factors have led to stresses on porcupine populations. In the Great Basin, near extinction of a population of porcupines was discovered to be a direct result of increased mountain lion predation. Increased predation may have been a result of low mule deer populations in the area. Increased predation on porcupines can also be a consequence of predator shifting when snowshoe hare numbers decline. Increased stress from natural predators signifies the fragile dynamics between porcupines and their environment. Historical studies have indicated a very cyclical fluctuation in populations of porcupines.

In northern Michigan, Fishers Martes pennanti were reintroduced to limit the porcupine population growth and nearly eliminated the species from the area. Limited den sites (standing hollow snags), brought about by logging practices, increased porcupine exposure to fishers. In the northeast, where hemlock plays a major role in porcupine winter foraging, pests such as the hemlock wooly adelgid, Adelges tsugae, along with increased hemlock logging may pose problems for future porcupine habitat.

Porcupines of the Rocky Mountains share the habitat of wood ticks. Wood ticks, Dermacentor andersoni, are the host of Colorado Tick Fever virus. It is unlikely that porcupines spread this virus, since only adult ticks attach to porcupines. Adult ticks do not spread the virus. Porcupines still play a significant role in the life cycle of these ticks, and infestation may be severe. In one study, 18 porcupines yielded a total of 448 ticks.

Porcupines sometimes creat stresses on other species, especially plants. In Texas, where they feed largely upon the bark of pinyon pines, it has been suggested that the trees have been made more vulnerable to the infestation of bark beetles.

Porcupines can be an important prey species, and populations of porcupines can be stressed by predators. In the Great Basin, one population of porcupines nearly became extinct because of increased mountain lion predation. Increased predation on porcupines may occur when other prey species, such as mule deer and rabbits, decrease in numbers. Historical studies indicate a cyclical fluctuation in porcupine populations, inidcating that they exist in a fragile balance in their ecosystems.

In other areas, predators can also have a big impact on porcupine populations. Fishers, Martes pennanti, were reintroduced in Northern Michigan in order to limit the porcupine population growth. The plan was overly successful, and nearly eliminated porcupines from the area. Limited den sites (standing hollow snags), brought about by logging practices, increased porcupine exposure to fishers.

In the northeast, where hemlock plays a major role in porcupine winter foraging, pests that affect the hemlock trees can affect porcupine populations. Pest such as hemlock wooly adelgids, Adelges tsugae, along with increased hemlock logging may pose problems for future porcupine habitat.

  • Keith, L., J. Cary. 1991. Mustelid, squirrel, and porcupine population trends during a snowshoe hare cycle. Journal of Mammalogy, 72/2: 373-378.
  • McLean, R., A. Carey, L. Kirk, D. Francy. 1993. Ecology of porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) and Colorado tick fever virus in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1975-1977. Journal of Medical Entomology, 30/1: 236-238.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Predation

Porcupines defend themselves from predators in a variety of ways. Even without trying, a porcupine warns its enemies that it is a dangerous animal through its coloration. The white-tipped quills on a black band on the tail and back stand out, and warn possible predators of danger. If their coloration pattern does not deter predators, porcupines often avoid danger by climbing a tree to escape. They can also clatter their teeth, which is another way that they warn predators. If these warnings fail, a porcupine will erect its quills, and release a nasty scent. Quills are only used for denfense if the threat has not been deterred by these other means.

Porcupines use their quills in two ways. Quills function a a shield made of barbs. They can also be driven into the predator. Once a porcupine has stuck its quills into an enemy, the porcupine needs to quickly separate from the quills. To do this, these animals have evolved unique quill-release systems. Erect quills release easier from the porcupine after they have been pushed into the would-be predator's body. The force to help the release of the quills is supplied by the contact with the would-be predator. Relaxed quills show no difference in release energy required.

Quills have a design that promotes their movement deeper into a predator once they have been embedded. The quills are not hollow, but are filled with a spongy matrix, which makes them very rigid and light.

Quills are dangerous for porcupines, too. It is common for porcupines to fall out of trees, and when they do, they can poke themselves with their own quills.

Even with all their defenses, porcupines are preyed upon by a several predators. The list includes lynx, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, wolverines, and great horned owls. Important predators include mountain lions and fishers.

Mountain lions and fishers have different stratgies for attacking porcupines. Fishers attack repeatedly from the front, avoiding the dangerous tail quills, until they are able to flip the porcupine on its back and attack the unprotected belly. Mountain lions supposedly make no attempt to avoid the quills of porcupines; instead they attack at will and deal with the consequences.

Predators tend to hunt and kill porcupines mostly in open habitats.

Known Predators:

  • fishers (Martes_pennanti)
  • mountain lions (Puma_concolor)
  • lynx (Lynx_canadensis)
  • bobcats (Lynx_rufus)
  • coyotes (Canis_latrans)
  • gray wolves (Canis_lupus)
  • wolverines (Gulo_gulo)
  • great horned owls (Bubo_virginianus)

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

General Ecology

Summer range may average up to 50-100 ha; winter range is less if there is much snow cover. Density may be 25-58/sq mile in good habitat (Baker 1983).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Porcupines use a combination of acoustic, chemical, visual, and tactile communication. Females communicate their readiness to mate by vaginal secretions, urine marking, and high pitched vocalizations. When threatened, a porcupine will chatter its teeth and produce a chemical odor, intended to warn off any predator. Males compete using fierce vocalizations. Visually, the porcupine communicates the presents of its weaponry by displaying the white on black markings on its back and tail. Tactile communication occurs when physical aggression erupts, as well as between mates, and between mothers and their young.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

  • Roze, U. 2002. A facilitated release mechanism for quills of the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Journal of Mammalogy, 83/2: 381-385.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Communication and Perception

Porcupines use a combination of acoustic, chemical, visual, and tactile communication. Females communicate their readiness to mate by vaginal secretions, urine marking, and high pitched vocalizations. When threatened, a porcupine will chatter its teeth and produce a chemical odor, intended to warn off any predator. Males compete using fierce vocalizations. Visually, the porcupine communicates the presents of its weaponry by displaying the white on black markings on its back and tail. Tactile communication occurs when physical aggression erupts, as well as between mates, and between mothers and their young.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

  • Roze, U. 2002. A facilitated release mechanism for quills of the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Journal of Mammalogy, 83/2: 381-385.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Cyclicity

Comments: Mainly nocturnal, frequently seen during the day.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life Expectancy

Porcupines are relatively long-lived animals that can live up to 18 years in the wild. Porcupine longevity is probably limited by the life of their grinding teeth. Porcupines over 12 years show diminished feeding and are usually smaller in size.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
18 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
6 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
17.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
18.0 years.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Lifespan/Longevity

Porcupines are relatively long-lived animals that can live up to 18 years in the wild. Porcupine longevity is probably limited by the life of their grinding teeth. Porcupines over 12 years show diminished feeding and are usually smaller in size.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
18 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
6 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
17.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
18.0 years.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 23.4 years (captivity) Observations: These animals appear to have a remarkably long life span in the wild, living up to 18 years (Ronald Nowak 1999). One captive specimen was about 23.4 years when it died (Richard Weigl 2005).
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Joao Pedro de Magalhaes

Source: AnAge

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Reproduction

The mating system of E. dorsatum is considered female defense polygyny. Males defend a pre-estrous female from 1 to 4 days prior to copulation. Porcupines breed only once a year. Female porcupines advertise their 8 to 12 hour estrous period well ahead of time through vaginal secretions, urine marking, and high pitched vocalizations. In doing this, females attract many males who compete with each other to determine dominance. A dominant male breeds with a number of different females, but only when the females are willing. This ensures that the "best" male fathers a female's offspring.

Females maintain a territory, and defend it against other females; however male territories typically overlap those of several females. The territories of dominant males rarely overlap. Females all maintain similar sized territories, but male territory size varies with age and dominance status. Juvenile males settle as permanent residents in their natal area. They have smaller territories than do adults, but expand their territory size as they mature. Females disperse from their natal area before reaching maturity.

Male/female pairs sometimes share winter dens, although this den sharing is not exclusive to mated pairs. Den sharing is not necessarily considered part of the mating system of porcupines.

Mating System: polygynous

Females advertise their readiness to mate by vaginal secretions, urine marking, and high pitched vocalizations, well before the time of ovulation. This means that several males converging on an advertising female will have to compete for, and then defend, the female. Mating will only happen after a female has chosen a male and is receptive to him.

Males compete with each other using loud vocalizations, violent biting, and each uses his quills as weapons. Although the competition happens in trees, mating exclusively happens on the ground. The pair will mate for several hours until a vaginal plug is formed, which then stops the copulation, and prevents further copulation with other males. This plug is formed by enzymatic action in the semen.

Male porcupines display a strange courtship ritual, which involves dousing of the female with his urine. The urine showers are continued until the female is receptive to both the shower and the male. According to Roze (1989), "Everything suggests the urine is fired by ejaculation, not released by normal bladder pressure. Porcupines with everyday full bladders don't squirt their urine, don't have erections, and don't aim at females."

Breeding occurs in October and November. Gestation in this species is 210 days, after which a female gives birth to a single offspring. Newborns weigh between 400 and 530 g. Young are nursed for about 127 days. They become independent of their mothers at approximately 5 months of age, but are not sexual mature until the age of 25 months for females, and 29 months for males.

Breeding interval: North American porcupines breed only once a year.

Breeding season: Mating occurs in the months of October and November.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Range gestation period: 205 to 217 days.

Average gestation period: 210.25 days.

Range weaning age: 127 (low) days.

Range time to independence: 5 (low) months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 25 (low) months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 29 (low) months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; induced ovulation ; fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 500 g.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Parental care is provided by the mother. Mainy, a mother provides her baby with food. For the first six weeks of a porcupine's life, its mother is always close by. They meet only at night. During the day the baby is hidden on the ground, while the mother sleeps in the trees. After six weeks, the baby porcupine follows the mother to feeding trees and waits for her at the bottom. Over the next couple months, resting positions and foraging distances show increasing separation between the young porcupine and its mother. The mother continues to travel to the position of the baby every night, following landmarks and not scent trails back to the infant. By mid-October the baby completely loses contact with the mother and is left to survive its first winter alone. The father spends no energy in the rearing of or caring for the offspring. Males have little to no contact with their offspring.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; precocial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • Griesemer, S., R. DeGraaf. 1996. Denning pattern of porcupines, Erithizon dorsatum . Canadian Field Naturalist, 110/4: 634-637.
  • Roze, U. 1989. The North American Porcupine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1997. Sexual dimorphism and evidence for intrasexual selection form quill impalements, injuries and mate guarding in porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 75: 847-854.
  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1998. Evidence for female-biased dispersal in North American pocupines (Erithizon dorsatum). Jounal of Zoology, 244: 159-166.
  • Woods, C. 1999. North American Porcupine| Erethizon dorsatum . Pp. 671-673 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington and London: The Smithsonian Institution Press.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Breeds September to November or December. Gestation lasts 17-18 weeks, usually 210 days, with births in spring. Lactation lasts about 4 months (spring-summer). Only one young is reared each year. Sexually mature in 15-16 months. In the Great Basin, Nevada, one of 13 juveniles, 100% of 2 and 3 year olds, and 90% of individuals 4 years old or older were pregnant (Sweitzer and Holcombe, 1993, J. Mamm. 74:769-776).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

The mating system of porcupines is considered female defense polygyny. Successful males mate with many different females, but unsuccessful males don't mate at all. Successful males defend a female from 1 to 4 days so that other males can't mate with her.

Porcupines breed only once a year. Female porcupines attract many males. These males compete with each other to determine dominance. The dominant males are the ones who succeed in defending females from their rivals. These are the males who father offspring.

Females maintain a territory, and defend it against other females. However, male territories usually overlap those of several females. The territories of dominant males rarely overlap. Females all have similar sized territories. A male's territory usually gets bigger throughout his life.

Mating System: polygynous

Females attract potential mates through scents and vocalizations. Several males converge on an advertising female. Successful males have to compete for, and then defend, the female. Mating will only happen after a female has chosen a male and is receptive to him.

Breeding occurs in October and November. Gestation in this species is 210 days, after which a female gives birth to a single offspring. Newborns weigh between 400 and 530 g. Young are nursed for about 127 days. They become independent of their mothers at approximately 5 months of age, but are not sexual mature until the age of 25 months for females, and 29 months for males.

Breeding interval: North American porcupines breed only once a year.

Breeding season: Mating occurs in the months of October and November.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Range gestation period: 205 to 217 days.

Average gestation period: 210.25 days.

Range weaning age: 127 (low) days.

Range time to independence: 5 (low) months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 25 (low) months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 29 (low) months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); induced ovulation ; fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 500 g.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Parental care is provided by the mother. Mainy, a mother provides her baby with food. For the first six weeks of a porcupine's life, its mother is always close by. They meet only at night. During the day the baby is hidden on the ground, while the mother sleeps in the trees. After six weeks, the baby porcupine follows the mother to feeding trees and waits for her at the bottom. Over the next couple months, resting positions and foraging distances show increasing separation between the young porcupine and its mother. The mother continues to travel to the position of the baby every night, following landmarks and not scent trails back to the infant. By mid-October the baby completely loses contact with the mother and is left to survive its first winter alone. The father spends no energy in the rearing of or caring for the offspring. Males have little to no contact with their offspring.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; precocial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • Griesemer, S., R. DeGraaf. 1996. Denning pattern of porcupines, Erithizon dorsatum . Canadian Field Naturalist, 110/4: 634-637.
  • Roze, U. 1989. The North American Porcupine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1997. Sexual dimorphism and evidence for intrasexual selection form quill impalements, injuries and mate guarding in porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 75: 847-854.
  • Sweitzer, R., J. Berger. 1998. Evidence for female-biased dispersal in North American pocupines (Erithizon dorsatum). Jounal of Zoology, 244: 159-166.
  • Woods, C. 1999. North American Porcupine| Erethizon dorsatum . Pp. 671-673 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington and London: The Smithsonian Institution Press.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Quills resist buckling: porcupine
 

Quills of porcupines resist buckling because they are made of a dense outer shell surrounding an elastic, honeycomb-like core.

   
  "Thin walled cylindrical shell structures are widespread in nature: examples include porcupine quills, hedgehog spines and plant stems. All have an outer shell of almost fully dense material supported by a low density, cellular core. In nature, all are loaded in some combination of axial compression and bending: failure is typically by buckling. Natural structures are often optimized. Here we have investigated and characterized the morphology of several natural tubular structures. Mechanical models recently developed to analyze the elastic buckling of a thin cylindrical shell supported by a soft elastic core (G.N. Karam and L.J. Gibson, Elastic buckling of cylindrical shells with elastic cores, I: Analysis, submitted to Int. J. Solids Structures, 1994, G.N. Karam and L.J. Gibson, Elastic buckling of cylindrical shells with elastic cores, II: Experiments, submitted to Int. J. Solids Structures, 1994) were used to study the mechanical efficiency of these natural structures. It was found that natural structures are often more mechanically efficient than equivalent weight hollow cylinders. Biomimicking of natural cylindrical shell structures may offer the potential to increase the mechanical efficiency of engineering structures." (Karam and Gibson 1994:113)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Karam G.N.; Gibson L.J. 1994. Biomimicking of animal quills and plant stems: natural cylindrical shells with foam cores. Materials Science and Engineering: C. 2(1-2): 113-132.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© The Biomimicry Institute

Source: AskNature

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

Conservation Status

This species is not a special conservation concern.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V., Emmons, L. & Timm, R.

Reviewer/s
McKnight, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team) & Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining at nearly the rate required to qualify for listing in a threatened category.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

This species is not a special conservation concern.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Population

Population
The North American porcupine is common and widespread. Local population densities range from 1 individual/km2 - 9.5 individuals/km2, with cyclical population peaks every 12-20 years (Woods 1973).

Population Trend
Stable
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Threats

Major Threats
No major threats to the species as a whole.

However, because of the damage caused to property, including trees, crops and car tires, porcupines are often hunted or trapped. In Mexico, it is considered in danger of extinction due to hunting (Ceballos and Oliva 2005). More effective population controls may be the management of a healthy population of fishers, the porcupine's main predator. Mortality is also known to be caused by collisions with automobiles (Woods 1973).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
North American porcupine habitat falls within several protected areas within Canada, the U.S., and Mexico which has allowed the species to reestablish its populations.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Porcupines have two areas of conflict with humans. Their salt cravings often lead them to chew on housing structures, automobiles, and anything made of plywood or with salt residue (usually from road de-icing salt). They also have a negative impact on the timber industry. Trees that have been fed on by porcupines tend to have stunted growth and twisted evil looking crowns, usually making the tree unsuitable for use as lumber.

Negative Impacts: crop pest; household pest

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Porcupines were once revered by Native American cultures throughout the continent as a food source, a source of quills for decoration, and legendary status. Today, however, they are mostly considered a pest. Bounties, large poisoning efforts and unregulated killing have only recently been discontinued. Some would argue that porcupines’ inherent value is the ease and accessibility of the species to research and study.

Positive Impacts: research and education

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Economic Uses

Comments: May be pest in alfalfa fields in some areas (Oklahoma, Caire et al. 1989). Also regarded as a nuisance due to gnawing on human property (buildings, furniture, implements, vehicle underbodies, and other objects from which sodium may be obtained).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Porcupines have two areas of conflict with humans. Their salt cravings often lead them to chew on housing structures, automobiles, and anything made of plywood or with salt residue (usually from road de-icing salt). They also have a negative impact on the timber industry. Trees that have been fed on by porcupines tend to have stunted growth and twisted evil looking crowns, usually making the tree unsuitable for use as lumber.

Negative Impacts: crop pest; household pest

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Porcupines were once revered by Native American cultures throughout the continent as a food source, a source of quills for decoration, and legendary status. Today, however, they are mostly considered a pest. Bounties, large poisoning efforts and unregulated killing have only recently been discontinued. Some would argue that porcupines’ inherent value is the ease and accessibility of the species to research and study.

Positive Impacts: research and education

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Wikipedia

North American porcupine

The North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), also known as the Canadian porcupine or common porcupine, is a large rodent in the New World porcupine family. The beaver is the only larger rodent in North America. The porcupine is a caviomorph rodent whose ancestors rafted across the Atlantic from Africa to Brazil over 30 million years ago, and then migrated to North America during the Great American Interchange after the Isthmus of Panama rose 3 million years ago.[4]

They range from Canada, Alaska, and into northern Mexico. They are commonly found in coniferous and mixed forested areas but have adapted to harsh environments such as shrublands, tundra and deserts. They make their dens in hollow trees or in rocky areas.

Etymology[edit]

The word porcupine comes from the middle or old French word porcespin, which means spiny pig. Its roots derive from the Latin words "porcus" or pig and "spina" meaning thorns.[5] Other colloquial names for the animal include quill pig. It is also referred to as the Canadian porcupine or common porcupine.[6] The porcupine's genus species name, Erethizon dorsatum can be loosely translated as "the animal with the irritating back." There are several native American names such as the Lakota name pahin meaning quill[7] and the Chipewyan name ts'l.[8]

Evolution[edit]

The North American porcupine is descended from South America where all new world porcupines or hystricomorphs evolved. Erethizon appeared in North America shortly after the two continents joined together in the later Tertiary period. Other hystricomorphs also migrated but Erethizon was the only one to survive north of Mexico. There is no known fossils attributed to hystricomorphs prior to the late Tertiary period. Some fossils such as species from the family Paramyidae show resemblance to the porcupine but they are so primitive and generalized that they could be ancestors to all later rodents.

South American hystricomorphs first appeared in the Lower Oligocene period. It is thought they migrated from Africa, ancestors of the old world porcupines or Hystricidae or they originated based on a migration of the North American Paramyidae.[9]

The earliest appearance of Erethizon dorsatum is from the Pleistocene era found along the Arroyo del Cedazo near Aguascalientes, Mexico.[10]

Subspecies[edit]

Seven subspecies of Erethizon dorsatum are recognized. They are subdivided by different ranges across North America. By far the most common is E. d. dorsatum, which ranges from Nova Scotia to Alberta and from Virginia to the Yukon. E. d. picinum occupies a small range in northeastern Quebec and Labrador. E. d. couesi is the most southern ranging from northern Mexico to Colorado. E. d. bruneri can be found in the midwest from Arkansas to Montana. The last three are western species. From south to north they are E.d. epixanthum, E. d. nigrescens, and E. d. myops.[10]

Description[edit]

A juvenile male North American porcupine. Young males spend their first winters with their mothers.
E. d. dorsatum, sleeping in tree, Ottawa, Ontario

Porcupines are usually dark brown or black in color, with white highlights. They have a chunky body, a small face, short legs, and a short thick tail. This species is the largest of the New World porcupines and is one of the largest North American rodents, second only to the American beaver in size. The head-and-body length is 60 to 90 cm (2.0 to 3.0 ft), not counting a tail of 14.5 to 30 cm (5.7 to 11.8 in). The hindfoot length is 7.5 to 9.1 cm (3.0 to 3.6 in). Weight can range from 3.5 to 18 kg (7.7 to 39.7 lb), although they average under 9 kg (20 lb).[11][10] Their upper parts are covered with thousands of sharp, barbed hollow spines or quills (actually modified hairs), which are used for defense. Porcupines do not throw their quills, but the quills detach easily and the barbs make them very difficult to remove once lodged in an attacker. The quills are normally flattened against the body unless the animal is disturbed. The porcupine also swings its quilled tail towards a perceived threat.

Porcupines are nearsighted and slow-moving. Porcupines are selective in their eating; out of 1000 trees in the Catskill forest, one or two are acceptable lindens, and one is a bigtooth aspen. Consequently, the porcupine has "an extraordinary ability to learn complex mazes and to remember them as much as a hundred days afterward".[12]

The porcupine is the only native North American mammal with antibiotics in its skin. Those antibiotics prevent infection when a porcupine falls out of a tree and is stuck with its own quills upon hitting the ground. Porcupines fall out of trees fairly often because they are highly tempted by the tender buds and twigs at the ends of the branches. The porcupine, wolverine, and the skunk are the only North American mammals that have black and white colours because they are the only mammals that benefit from letting other animals know where and who they are in the dark of the night.[12]

Behavior[edit]

Porcupines are mainly active at night (nocturnal); on summer days, they often rest in trees. During the summer, they eat twigs, roots, stems, berries, and other vegetation. In the winter, they mainly eat conifer needles and tree bark. They do not hibernate but sleep a lot and stay close to their dens in winter. The strength of the porcupine's defense has given it the ability to live a solitary life, unlike many herbivores, which must move in flocks or herds.

Porcupines breed in the fall and the young porcupine (usually one) is born in the spring, with soft quills that harden within a few hours after birth. When porcupines are mating, they tighten their skin and hold their quills flat, so as not to injure each other.

They are considered by some to be a pest because of the damage that they often inflict on trees and wooden and leather objects. Plywood is especially vulnerable because of the salts added during manufacture. The quills are used by Native Americans to decorate articles such as baskets and clothing. Porcupines are edible and were an important source of food, especially in winter, to the Natives of Canada's boreal forests. They move slowly (having few threats in its natural environment which would give it the need to flee quickly) and are often hit by vehicles while crossing roads. Natural predators of this species include fishers (a cat-sized marten), wolverines, coyotes, wolves, bears, and cougars as well as humans. The only known avian predators of this species are golden eagles and great horned owls.[13][14] Due to its dangerous quills, the North American porcupine is often avoided as prey and even their largest predators (like wolves and cougars) have been known to be harmed or killed by their quills. Most predators of the porcupine will attempt to stun or cause massive blood loss with an attack to the face and then will spin them over to their unprotected underside. The porcupine can embed several painful quills directly into a predator's body (usually through the face or feet, depending on how the predator attacks), which may save their own lives. Due to their agility and aggression, adult male fishers (females are not large enough to attack a full-grown porcupine) are particularly adept porcupine hunters, though even this species primarily hunts other prey and it may take up to 30 minutes of repeated attacks to the porcupine's face before it can overtake the large rodent.[15][16] To avoid predation, porcupines often climb trees at the first sign of danger, since most of their natural predators cannot pursue them once they're arboreal.[17]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ ITIS claims that Erethizon dorsatus is a valid name while Erethizon dorsatum is invalid, assuming that Erethizon is a masculine Latin noun; however it is in fact a Greek participle, not a Latin noun.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Linzey, A. V., Emmons, L. & Timm, R. (2008). Erethizon dorsatum. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  3. ^ "Erethizon dorsatus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved June 7, 2013.  See also ITIS
  4. ^ Bromley, D.; Osborne, T. (1994). "Porcupine: Alaska Wildlife Notebook Series". Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game. Retrieved 2009-05-10. [dead link]
  5. ^ Concise Oxford English dictionary, 12th edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2011. ISBN 0199601089. 
  6. ^ "A coat of many quills". Canadian Forestry Association. 
  7. ^ "Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)". The Natural Source: An Educator's Guide to South Dakota's Natural Resources. 
  8. ^ "Fort Resolution Chipewyan Dictionary" (PDF). 22 January 2011. p. 40. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Wood, Albert E. (25 November 1949). "Porcupines, Paleogeography, and Parallelism". Society for the Study of Evolution 4 (1): 87-98. 
  10. ^ a b c Woods, Charles A. (13 June 1973). Mammalian species:Erethizon dorsatum (PDF) (29). American Society of Mammalogists. p. 1-6. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Weber, Christopher; Myers, P. (2004). "Erethizon dorsatum". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 2009-05-10. 
  12. ^ a b Roze, Uldis (2009). The North American Porcupine. (Google books limited preview) Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-4646-7. 
  13. ^ Olendorff, R. R. (1976). The food habits of North American golden eagles. American Midland Naturalist, 231-236.
  14. ^ Eifrig, H. (1909). Great horned owl versus porcupine. Auk, 26, 58-59.
  15. ^ "Ecological Characteristics of Fishers in the Southern Oregon Cascade Range" (PDF). USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station 2006. 
  16. ^ Coulter, M.W. (1966). Ecology and management of fishers in Maine. (Ph.D. thesis). Syracuse, N.Y.: St. Univ. Coll. Forest. Syracuse University. 
  17. ^ "Porcupine: Erethizon dorsatum bruneri Swenk". Mammals of Kansas. 2002. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Source: Wikipedia

Unreviewed

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Disclaimer

EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.

To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!