I have been doing a little research about porcupines online... and have come to the conclusion that
- all the information online appears to have come from the same source
- not all the information is accurate
(they are much like muntjacs in this way. There is more bogus information online about muntjacs than there is factual information unfortunately. )
I have purchased a book written by Uldis Roze, also known as "The Porcupine King" . He appears to have devoted a good portion of his adult life to the study of the North American Porcupine (over 25 years of study).
I will list a few facts about porcupines here.... and also some speculation and observations .
#1 MYTH that I hear the most: Porcupines can throw their quills at you.
This is NOT TRUE. They can however, when threatened, slap a predator with their tail with such speed that it appears the quills could have been thrown. The quills can hit with such force that the smaller quills can be embedded completely into the body of the predator with nothing showing. It is said that if this happens, the moving muscles of the victim will cause the quill to move deeper and deeper into the body , propelling itself forward with the microscopic barbs on the quill.
FACT: Porcupine quills have microscopic barbs along the shaft that can not be seen with the naked eye. These barbs make the quills difficult to remove.
My husband (who has had HUNDREDS of porcupine quills in his hands) says that porcupine quills do not hurt much at all going in.. they hurt much worse coming out. We think this is probably the reason dogs end up with SO MANY quills in them sometimes...they dont feel them at first so they dont back down.
#2 MYTH Porcupine Quills are hollow
Porcupine quills are not hollow. They are filled with a spongy material that makes them lightweight , yet also stiff.
FACT: Porcupines have around 30,000 quills, covering nearly every part of their body except their muzzle, underbelly, & ears. They also have an area called a rosette that is hairless and without quills on the lower back (not often seen). This area is where the strong smell of the porcupine is released.
FACT: Porcupines often fall out of trees and are seriously injured or even killed.
Although they are incredibly strong and built for climbing, they also have relatively high body weights, their summer foods (in the winter they feed more on the bark of the tree than the twigs) are typically located far out on the branches & the branches of heavily used trees are very brittle.
1/3 of porcupine skeletons observed in museums show evidence of healed fractures from previous falls. (those that weren't fatal)
FACT: Porcupine quills are covered in a layer of grease that actually has antibiotic properties. This helps protect the porcupine if he/she falls out of tree and is stabbed with their own quills. (also if they are hurt in a fight over females/territory)
FACT: Porcupines are similar to skunks in the way they warn away predators. (they use sight, sound & smell to warn predators away before they resort to using their quills.
Similarities: They are black & white , just like the skunk. This is a natural warning to predators to stay away! They will first use the color on their back to threaten a predator away (just like a skunk). They will then use noise , by clattering their teeth together (a skunk stomps its feet). Third they will release a foul odor from a special place on their back called a rosette. It is said that this odor is very invasive and there is no way you could be in a closed space with it. Finally if all warnings have been ignored a porcupine will protect itself with devasting results to the attacker.
FACT: Porcupines have very few serious enemies in the wild. The fisher is their main enemy, other than humans.
In every state in the United States porcupines are un-protected from hunting at anytime.
In US history bounties have been placed on porcupines and hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid out for their deaths. Many states have poisoned them, shot them, & introduced fishers into their territories to kill them.
FACT: Porcupines, like all animals, need salt.
In the spring months porcupines crave salt. This is one of the reasons you see so many hit on the side of the road. They go to the highway to chew on sticks that have been soaked with road salt during the winter months. They have also been known to chew on tires, brake lines, (for the same reason) , oars and ax handles (due to sweat/salt on them) & houses / cabins / sheds... (due to sodium being used to treat lumber). (Obviously these traits do not endear them to humans!)
FACT: Porcupines gestation is 7 months. (210 days) Breeding occurs mid-September to mid-October in most regions.
There is MUCH speculation online and elsewhere that the female porcupine goes into heat just 8-12 hours A YEAR. There is also specualtion that they ovulate only after mating (like rabbits) . One study showed strong evidence that they may go into estrus every 28 days.... but strangely enough, after 250+ years of studying the porcupine, none of these ideas have been fully proven.
Mother porcupines spend most of their days up in a tree and come down at night to nurse their babies. (the baby will find a place to hide nearby... sometimes not that well) The baby is unable to climb anything but a very small diameter tree for the first 6 weeks of life.
The mother has 4 nipples, 2 under the armpits and 2 abdominal (with rare variations occasionally) Porcupines have been observed both in the wild and in captivity nursing their babies for an average of 127 days. Add this to the 210 days that they are pregnant and a female porcupine is pregnant or lactating for 11 months a year!
In general porcupine mothers do not defend their babies, even when they are captured in their sight. This may be because baby porcupines are not defenseless... they are born fully quilled with their defense reactions well developed.
Porcupine General Information
1. Porcupines can live up to 20+ years.
2. Gestation is 7 months and a single young is born.
3. Baby porcupines are called porcupets.
They weigh about 1 lb when born and double their weight the first 2 weeks. They are born fully furred with quills. They are a solid black color and odorless to predators.
The porcupet is born inside a caul, like a kitten. The mother eats the caul away and the babies quills start to harden as soon as they are exposed to air. Within an hour of birth, the babies quills are usually hard. Porcupets quills are about 1/2 inch long and very fine.
5. It has been observed (by us) that porcupines have very poor eyesight. They are said to be nearsighted, but we have observed that they seem unable to see us , even up close, unless we move. (much like they say a T-Rex was!) We can stand directly in front of them and if we are still they do not seem to recognize that we are there.
- Porcupines do not hibernate
7. Baby porcupines are born with 8 teeth, and adults have 12 teeth by 2 years old.
The babies teeth are white, but the adults main incisors have a bright orange enamel coating them. (that contains iron salts and function as hardening agents)
8. Porcupines can weigh anywhere from 7 to 40 lbs. , with the majority weighing less than 20 lbs.
On a personal note, it is probably obvious by browsing our website that we love animals and the porcupine is no exception. We find them fun, entertaining, educational & just plain cool to have around! I will admit that I like them much more than I thought I would when we first got them. ( I was not originally thrilled with the idea) They do all have their very own look, and their very own personality traits. (so far, I can tell them apart at a glance... and so can my husband, which is amusing because he cant tell a brown goat from a black and white one.)
They are very docile creatures and are not aggressive. We have combined several adults of both sexes with complete strangers and they do not fight with each other. (Unlike combining two adult female rabbits or two male rabbits).
I often tell people that they are just giant rodents and to think of them as a large guinea pig with a great defense mechanism. (this is un-true also though, as adult guinea pigs of the same sex will fight if put together! )
They are a solitary animal and keep to themselves. Their first instinct is always self protection, if you dont bother a North American Porcupine, it will not bother you.