North American Porcupine

ZOO LOCATION: Rocky Mountain Wild

Lifespan: 6 to 10 years

Wild Diet: Leaves, bark, twigs and green plants

Zoo Diet: Monkey chow, grain, alfalfa and vegetables

Predators: Fisher (black marten), cougar, coyote and bobcat

SSP: no

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Habitat/Range: Found in forests, deserts and grasslands throughout western North America

Characteristics: North American Porcupines are quill bearing rodents with a blunt snout, short legs and long curved claws on their feet. The second largest of all rodents, they are about 27 in. long not including a muscular 8 in. tail. They can weigh up to 40 lbs. The most distinguishing characteristic of Porcupines are their quills. These quills, which are actually modified hairs, are black-tipped and yellowish. Each individual animal has 15,000-30,000 stiff, barbed spines about three inches long that can be detached easily and become painfully embedded in the skin of an attacker. Not only do they inflict painful wounds, but they also work into the skin and may cause death if they puncture vital organs or if the wounds become infected.

Behavior: Porcupines are usually solitary and nocturnal. When threatened porcupines may spin quickly, raise their quills and slap their tail but they cannot shoot the quills as popular beliefs suggest. They are otherwise fairly slow animals and are not typically aggressive.

Reproduction: Being solitary, porcupines only come together for breeding season, November through December. One or two young are born after a gestation of about 200 days. They young are born with soft quills, which harden within the hour. Their eyes are open at birth and they begin eating solid food after 2 weeks. Young porcupines may nurse for up to five months.

Conservation: Porcupines are often described as pests. They seek out salt and will chew on tools left outside (because of the sweat on them). They are also hunted for their meat. This species is listed as Least Concern because of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining at the rate required to qualify for listing in a threatened category.