Field Guide/Mammals/North American Porcupine

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Erethizon dorsatum (North American Porcupine)
Family: Erethizonidae
Size: Total length: 25-40 inches, 645-1030 mm

Tail length: 6-12 inches, 145-300 mm Height: 1-2 inches, 25-42 mm

Weight: 7-40 pounds, 3.5-18 kg [1]
Description: A prickly, barb covered creature that is dark brown and black in color. Quills found on dorsal surface are white tipped to ward off predators.[2] Lack canine teeth and possess exceptionally long claws.[3]
Similar Species: The North American Porcupine is similar to the Central or South American porcupine, but is more likely to be found in a cold environment.[2]

Range: North American Porcupines are found in the northern tier of the United States, specifically Alaska and California. The northern Great Lakes region, including Minnesota, also houses a large number of this species.[3]
Habitat: Open tundra and deciduous forests are common habitats for the North American Porcupine. Groundcover, trees, and stone den shelters are utilized based on climate and elevations. During winter months, it is more common to find a porcupine in stone lodging, but will make due with trees if that is their only option.[3]
Diet: All porcupines are herbivores. Foods rich in nitrogen, protein, and fiber such as bark, phloem, twigs, sugar maple buds, etc. are often consumed as staples in their diets.[3]
Activity: Porcupines are nocturnal, as they feed at night in order to harness additional nutrients in their foods. Their dominant and protective nature keeps both males and females within a specific “home range” for approximately three rounds of mating.[3]

Reproduction: Females initiate mating season annually by marking their territories and emitting vaginal secretions attracting males. Males will fight to mate with specific females. Alpha males are typically larger in nature, providing a good line of genetics to the offspring. When females have been fertilized, their gestation period will span around 200 days. Offspring are cared for by the female, gaining full independence within a year of birth.[2]
Lifespan: Up to 18 years.[2]

Notes: A porcupine's quills act as a high quality defensive mechanism, both warding off predators through an ominous color contrast (white on black) and by acting as a barrier when under attack.[3]
North American Porcupine, sleeping in tree.jpg

  1. Woods, C.A. (1973), "Erethizon dorsatum", Mammalian Species 29: 1–6 
  2. a b c d Weber, Christopher (2012), North American Porcupine,, retrieved September 23, 2012 
  3. a b c d e f Shefferly, Nancy; Weber, Christopher (2012), North American Porcupine,, retrieved September 23, 2012