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Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Porcupine - Grand Teton National Park


The porcupine is a large rodent with sharp quills that protect themselves against predators.

Old World porcupines ("Hystricidae") live in southern Europe, western and southern Asia and most of Africa.

New World porcupines ("Erethizontidae") are indigenous to North America and northern South America. They live in wooded areas, and climb trees where some live there entire lives. They are smaller and less nocturnal than the Old World porcupines. It is the New World porcupine that is both terrestrial and arboreal. They will roost in trees but will also den in hollow trees, logs and stumps caves, rock crevices, burrows and snow caves. In coniferous forest, they are seen mostly on the ground.

During the spring and summer, porcupines feed on buds, twigs, roots, sterns, leaves, flowers, berries, seeds, and nuts. During the winter they feed on evergreen needles and cambium layer and inner bark of trees. Bones and antlers are gnawed upon for calcium and other minerals.


Most porcupines are 25 - 36 inches long with a powerful muscular tail 8 - 10 inches long. They weigh from 12 - 35 pounds are very slow. They can curl up and strike with their tail very quickly. No, they can not shoot their quills at there enemy. But they can detach easily and embed themselves in the attacker. If you get an opportunity to hold a quill, it shaft's feel and look is similar to a the shaft of a thin plastic hollow Q-tip.

The quills or spines (up to 30,000) take various forms depending on the species, but all are modified hairs embedded in skin musculature. Old World porcupines have quills embedded in clusters, whereas in New World porcupines, single quills are interspersed with bristles, underfur and hair.


Porcupines came in various shades of brown, grey, black and white. Yet this coloring is overlaid by variegated bands of patterns on the quills (white, yellow, orange or black).

Fishers, bobcats, mountain lions and wolverines successfully can prey on porcupines by attacking their underside.

Porcupines do not hibernate in winter but van remain in their dens during a cold spell. They are generally solitary but can den in groups.

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