North American porcupine

Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Rodents
Family Erethizontidae
Scientic name Erethizon dorsatum
French name Porc-épic d'Amérique
Size Total length: 63 to 100 cm
Status Common species

Distinguishing features In the eastern part of their habitat, these porcupines have black pelts, whereas they are blondish brown further west. A porcupine’s fur is made up of ground hair and guard hair. Some 30,000 stiff quills cover its head, neck, rump and tail. It has long, curved claws.

Reproduction During the rutting season (October to December), the male and female spend about one week together. When the female is ready to mate, she “dances” with the male. They both rear up on their hind legs, belly to belly, giving a variety of squeaks, groans and grunts. There is considerable speculation about how they actually mate, but it seems that the female flattens her quills and raises her tail over her back to present herself to the male. The female may mate with several partners and bears one litter per year, with one or two young per litter. Gestation lasts about seven months. The young stay with the mother until fall. Although baby porcupines are weaned at about six or seven weeks, they start eating plants at two weeks. Porcupines reach sexual maturity at two to three years.

Diet Porcupines eat the sapwood (the tender part under the bark) of conifers and deciduous trees. They also eat leaves, tree buds and aquatic plants, including water lilies and arrowhead, as well as corn, antlers, bones and salt. Because they are fond of salt, they may eat items that have been in contact with human sweat or urine, such as paddles, tool handles and shoes.

Predators Their main enemies are fishers, although they may occasionally be attacked by bobcats, pumas, wolverines, coyotes and red foxes. Many porcupines are also crushed by cars.

Habitat They live in mixed forests, underbrush and scrubby areas. They are found throughout North America, as far south as Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They make use of natural shelters, including hollow tree trunks, overturned logs, the space under a pile of rocks and caves. Their shelters can be detected by their scat and the odour of their urine.

Ecology Porcupines supplement their diet with minerals by eating fallen antlers. Their quills help make them buoyant in the water, so that they can reach aquatic plants. They do a lot of damage to trees by girdling their tops and clipping the leaders. Porcupines have a keen sense of hearing and smell. They are largely nocturnal. They can often be seen along roadsides, particularly where salt has been spread.

At the Biodôme The porcupines are not very active in daytime. They hide when sleeping, climb in trees or lie with their faces toward the rocks so as to display their quills and protect their sensitive, unprotected muzzles. They eat fruit, vegetables and pellet meal.