North American porcupine holding onto a piece of gnawed wood

North American porcupine

Prickly protection

Type

giant panda

Mammals

Area

North America

North America

Endangered Status

Stable

facts

size
2 to 3 feet
long (not including tail)
An average soccer ball is 8.65 inches tall.
porcupine next to a soccer ball
food
plants
bark, leaves, roots
herbivore

Porcupines also eat pine needles, berries, seeds, flowers, and water plants.

habitat
forests
also grasslands and deserts
forest habitat

description

porcupine incisors

description

Toothy tool

Porcupines are a type of rodent, and their incisors prove it! A porcupine uses its large two front teeth for gnawing off bites of food. The incisors continue to grow throughout the porcupine's life, and the constant gnawing keeps them worn down to the perfect size.

A very quill-covered porcupine laying in green vegetation

Sharp defense

The 300,000 quills that cover a North American porcupine's body are its best defense—but not the way you may think! A common myth is that porcupines can "shoot" their quills at a predator; but they can't. Here's the truth: the quills are made of keratin like your hair and fingernails. And just like your hair, old quills fall out as new ones grown in. The shed quills often get trapped in the fur around them, and when a porcupine shakes, the quills fall out. Also, the spines are loosely attached to the skin. When they come in contact with something else, they are easily detached.

porcupine looking left as it stands on a boulder

Points of interest

Sometimes it's hard to see the quills on a North American porcupine, because they are hidden by long, soft guard hairs. But if a porcupine feels threatened, it makes the prickly parts easy to see. Muscles at the base of each spine contract and make the quill stand upright. When all the quills are erect, it makes the animal look very large and dangerous! The spiny tail can also be used like a club, lashing it back and forth. This makes the quills rattle, adding a warning sound to the animal's display.

Porcupine mother with baby in a tree

Soft start

Baby porcupines are called porcupettes. Females usually have only one baby at a time. The porcupette's quills are soft and flexible at birth, but harden after a few days. Then the little one waddles after its mother and learns to find food. After just a few months, the porcupette can take care of itself and goes its own way.