North American Porcupine

(Erethizon dorsatum)


North American Porcupine IUCN LEAST CONCERN (LC)


Facts about this animal

The North American porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America, outsized only by beavers. Head-body length ranges from 60-90 cm, and body-weight from 5-14 kg with males being larger than females. The tail is 17-29 cm long. The North American porcupine has only 20 teeth: one incisor, one premolar and three molars in each jaw. The spaces between incisors and premolars (diastema) allows the animals to draw in the lips while gnawing. Long claws, four and a vestigial thumb on the fore paws, and five in back along with rather unique palms, allow for easy climbing on both large trunks and surprisingly minute branches. The palms and soles of porcupines are naked with a pebbly surface. This texture increases the surface area and thus the friction while in contact with a branch. The most obvious anatomic pattern of the species is its spiny coat. The overall colour of coat is dark brown to black, with dorsal guard hairs and spines that contain bands of yellow. Spines called quills extend from head to tail on the dorsal surface. The middle of the tail and lower back are marked by a black line. Quills on the black area are fringed with white. The about 30,000 quills have microscopic barbs on the tip. They are usually around 75 mm long and 2 mm wide.


The porcupines are nocturnal resting in trees during the day, and generally solitary, although groups may gather at feeding sites during summer and early autumn, and several may share a winter den at the same time. During autumn breeding season, a number of males are found around adult females in estrus. Females maintain a territory, and defend it against other females; however male territories typically overlap those of several females. The territories of dominant males rarely overlap. North American porcupines breed only once a year. Mating occurs in the months of October and November. After a gestation period of about 210 days, usually one rarely two young are born, which weigh about 400-500 g at birth, are weaned after 4-5 months, and become independent from their mother after 5-6 months.


North American porcupines are predominantly hervivores Year round diet are the bark and cambium layer of many different trees. Spring and summer diet consists of grasses, buds, twigs, roots, leaves, flowers, seeds and an assortment of other vegetation. Bones and antlers found on the ground are eagerly gnawed for their high mineral content. Winter diet consists primarily of conifer needles and the tree bark of conifers and hardwoods.

Did you know?
That people are the most important enemies of North American porcupines? The porcupines fall very often victim to road traffic, and they are targeted due to certain destructive behaviours. The timber industry targets them because of their taste for trees, agriculturists consider them a pest when they forages on crops such as corn. A desire for salt leads porcupines to gnaw on objects as varied as vehicle tires for road salt or axe handles for salty human perspiration. Until some time ago even bounties and poisoning have been used against porcupines to control their numbers.


Name (Scientific) Erethizon dorsatum
Name (English) North American Porcupine
Name (French) Porc-épic d'Amérique, Ourson coquau
Name (German) Urson, Nordamerikanischer Baumstachler
Name (Spanish) Puercoespín norteamericano
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
U.S. National Park Service



Range Canada, Northern Mexico, USA (except Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina)
Habitat Wide range of habitats including tundra, coniferous and deciduous forests, and desert chaparral.
Wild population Unknown, but stable, with densities of 1 / km2 - 9.5 / km2 (1973) (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population 149 animals reported to ISIS (2008), most of the in North America.

In the Zoo

North American Porcupine


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 80 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
NOrbert Potensky

Why do zoos keep this animal

The North American porcupine is not a threatened species, and it is not very frequently kept by zoos outside the species' range. Zoos keep it primarily for educational reasons.