#WildlifeLove: 9 Wild Facts about Porcupines

We recently caught video of one of the area's most intimidating local species, reminding us how amazing these animals are.

By Reed Sparling

Arguably, the porcupine — technically, the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) — is the Hudson Valley’s oddest-looking creature. Everybody knows about their quills, but we discovered there’s lots more to learn about these elusive mammals, including unusual calls and smells and the cutest baby name ever.

A porcupine moseys along the Appalachian Trail. (Photo: Lynn Freehill-Maye / Scenic Hudson)

1. Our nation’s second-largest rodent (after beavers), porcupines can weigh up to 35 pounds.

2. Along with hair, their bodies sport up to 30,000 barbed quills, each 1-4 inches long. Made of keratin, the same substance found in our hair and fingernails, the quills detach easily when touched.

3. On average, porcupines live 5-7 years, but some have been known to reach 20.

4. Porcupines’ elaborate mating rituals involve courtship dances and a host of sounds — “whining, moaning, grunting, clicking of their teeth, in addition to wails, shrieks and siren-like screaming.” Often, several males will compete for mating rights.

A porcupine shows how fast he can move on a Hudson Valley trail. (Video: Jason Taylor / Scenic Hudson)

5. Females’ period of fertility (once a year for 8-12 hours) is the shortest of any rodent and their gestation (around 210 days) the longest. Typically, they deliver a single offspring, called a porcupette. They’re born with soft quills, which harden in a couple of days.

6. Contrary to legend, porcupines can’t shoot their quills, but they are able to raise them. They emit a pungent odor (likened to the smell of stinky cheese) to let predators — primarily fishers, but also courageous owls and coyotes — know they’re serious about defending themselves. If cornered, they swing their tails like a mace.

7. Shy and nocturnal creatures, porcupines don’t hibernate. They spend much of their time in trees, searching for food and sometimes nesting in the branches. The soles of their feet are “pebbly” (akin to the texture of a basketball), which makes them excellent climbers.

A porcupine “hanging out” in a Hudson Valley tree. (Video: Caroline Alsup / Scenic Hudson)

8. Herbivores, porcupines eat needles and bark from evergreen trees in winter and berries, seeds, grasses and leaves during warmer months. They’re especially fond of water lilies and swim into ponds to munch on them.

9. Porcupines are nearsighted and slow-moving, capable of reaching 2 mph over short distances (compared to a squirrel’s 20 mph and a deer’s 30). But they do have a great sense of smell.