Porcupines are the second-largest rodent in North America (the largest is the beaver), and the third-largest overall after the South American capybara. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds.
An adult porcupine has about 30,000 quills, which cover its entire body except for its belly, face, and paws. The quills are modified hollowed hairs tipped with tiny barbs that stick in any animal that attacks them. Their skin contains antibiotics to prevent the porcupine from getting infected if it is stuck with its own quills when falling out of trees (which happens fairly often).
Porcupines cannot throw their quills! You must touch a porcupine to get quilled. When the barbs stick in your skin, the quill breaks off from the porcupine, which later regrows it.
Like most rodents, their teeth grow throughout their lives. Their front teeth have a reddish-orange color from iron oxide in the enamel.
In addition to the quills, porcupines also use a strong unpleasant odor to warn away predators.
Porcupines in this ecosystem
Porcupines are common in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. You’re not likely to see one, because they live in trees and they are primarily nocturnal, but you may see the damage they’ve done to trees by eating the bark.
North American porcupines are herbivores, eating bark, stems, fruit, leaves, and other plants.
At the Sanctuary, we feed our porcupines fruits, vegetables, and special rodent chow.
BEHAVIOR & Lifespan
Porcupines generally select a “home tree” where they sleep. They eat bark and tender shoots from trees, but not their home tree.
They are excellent climbers, but clumsy and slow-moving on the ground. There are very few predators that prey on porcupines. The most prominent are fishers (mustelids similar to cat-sized weasels), mountain lions, and great horned owls.
Porcupines generally live 5-7 years in the wild.