North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)


Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) 

The North American Porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum), also known as Canadian Porcupines or Common Porcupines, are mammals from the New World Porcupine family (Erethizonitdae) and of the genus and species Erethizon dorsatum. The genertic name means "one who rises in anger." The species name refers to a back or ridge. They are of the order Rodents (Rodentia). When disturbed, a porcupine will arch its back, raises its quills, lower its head and lash out with its tail. The quills are never thrown but will  penetrate any flesh that they contact and easily detach from the porcupine. The victim's body heat causes the hollow quill to expand and drive microscopic barbs into the victim's flesh producing pain and imbedding the quill more securely.  Generally, porcupines will try to avoid danger by climbing a tree. They can grow to be a little more than a yard (930mm) in length. A North American Porcupine can weigh up to 40 pounds (18 kilograms). Thequills on their backs and sides are brown to black with white highlights.

They are vegetarians preferring leaves, twigs and green wood. Unfortunately, they have an appetite for salt and chew on wood handled by people causing damage to wooden tools and furniture left outside. The procupine's front feet have four toes with long curved claws. Their hind feet have five toes. They are excellent tree climbers. However, their quest for tasty leaves often cause them to overreach and fall out of trees. Their skin contains an antibiotic to prevent infection if they impale themselves on their own quills. They choose to live in woods near water and are residents of the woods around French Hill Pond. Much of their hunting is nocturnal but they may be seen foraging in the daytime. They do not hibernate but are less active in winter.

Porcupines are solitary, slow-moving animals. They live in a den, usually among rocks, and may share the den with other porcupines. Porcupines often sleep in trees and their color may make them difficult to spot. The female porcupine mates in the fall. During mating, both porcupines tighten their skins to avoid impaling one another. A single youngster is born in early summer. A porcupine can live up to eight years.

North American Porcupine by a Tree 

The photographs on this page were taken with a flash camera at night. The first flash startled the porcupine and it headed for the tree shown in the photograph immediately above. The porcupine can be very noisy when foraging and may be easily spotted as it moves along the ground at night because of its white highlights. It has no serious predators on Mount Desert Island because of its painful defenses. Some animals may attempt to turn the porcupine on its back because its, quill-free, hairy bottom is vulnerable.

Porcupines can be eaten and may be useful for someone lost in the wilderness. They are easily killed by hitting it hard on the nose with a stick. One must avoid running ones hands against the quills. Quills imbedded in pets or humans can be more easily removed by cutting the quills to expose the hollow center thereby relieving pressure. If the quills are deeply imbedded, a local anesthetic may be necessary. It is best to have quills removed by a veterinarian  if an animal is the victim or a medical doctor if a person is the victim.


Mammals (Mammalia) Fauna of French Hill Pond French Hill Pond Home Page