NORTH AMERICAN PORCUPINE

ERETHIZON DORSATUM

North American Porcupine at the Brandywine ZooThe Brandywine Zoo has two North American porcupines. If you visit the zoo you’ll see Peanut on exhibit. Peanut was born in 2013. Juniper, who was born in 2015, is an Ambassador Animal, which means she is trained to help our educators teach about porcupines, and  even travels off site to schools and libraries! Even though Peanut and Juniper are both adults, Peanut is almost twice the size as Juniper. Just like people, porcupines can come in many sizes!

HABITAT
Forest, shrublands, grasslands

GEOGRAPHIC REGION AND RANGE
North America, specifically most of Canada, western and northeast United States (including Alaska).

DIET
Vegetation: leaves, stems, fruits, flowers, roots, and inner layers of bark

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
Black to brown fur with white highlighting, a small head and short legs, long claws, and needle-like quills covering the entire back, especially on the tail

SIZE
25-41 inches

WEIGHT
8-40 lbs, males are usually 22-27 lbs, females are usually 15-18 lbs

LIFESPAN
Wild: 6-18 years
Under Human Care: Up to 20+

THREATS
North American porcupines used to be found in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, including Delaware. They are gone from these areas for a number of reasons including habitat loss due to logging and clearing for roads and buildings, invasive insect species like the hemlock woolly adelgid that destroy major food sources, and the hunting of porcupines as a pest species.

STATUS
Least Concern

REPRODUCTION
• They have 1 infant at a time
• Gestation lasts 7 months
• Newborn porcupines have soft quills that harden in a few days

BEHAVIOR
• These porcupines are nocturnal, and prefer to be awake at night and sleep during the day.
• They make dens in hollow trees, fallen logs, or caves. While they do not hibernate, they do sleep a lot, and stay close to their den in the winter.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE
• North American porcupines are usually solitary meaning they live alone.
• Young porcupines only stay with their mother for around two months

COMMUNICATION
They have aposematic coloration, colors that warn other animals that they are dangerous: the white tips of their quills and fur are easily seen against their dark bodies. When threatened, a porcupine will chatter its teeth and produce a chemical odor, intended to scare away predators. They will also raise their quills to point in all directions like a pin cushion and turn their back to a threat to show off those quills.

FUN FACTS

Porcupine quills are made of keratin – the same material that makes up our hair and fingernails.

A single porcupine may have up to 30,000 quills or more!

Porcupine means “spiny pig” in Middle French.

North American porcupines have antibiotics in their skin. Those antibiotics prevent infection if a porcupine accidentally get pricked with its own quills.

Despite what movies and cartoons show, porcupines cannot shoot their quills. Quills only come off when shedding (like hair) or when the tip is stuck into something, like a predato

What are AZA Zoos doing for North American Porcupines?

Their zoo population is managed through conservation breeding programs called Species Survival Plan programs, which ensures genetic diversity and species health. As of 2018, 96 North American porcupines lived at 56 AZA facilities.

More images of our North American Porcupine