Porcupines are rodents with a coat of sharp spines, or quills that defend them from predators. Porcupines are the third largest rodents, after the capybara and the beaver.
Most porcupines are about 63–91 cm long, with a 20–25 cm long tail and weigh between 5–16 kg. Their bodies are rounded, large and they walk slowly. Porcupines come in various shades of brown, grey, and white which is not common.
The name “porcupine” comes from Middle French porc d’épine which is translated as “thorny”, “spined”, “quilled”, “pork” or “pig”-- hence its nickname “quill pig.” A group of porcupines is called a “prickle.”
These thorny animals spend most their time in tall trees eating bark and branches. They sleep during the day in a hollow tree stems or dens under rocks.
A porcupine usually has more than one den. It may also sleep high up in a tree.
Porcupines have small heads and almost have no neck. On their heads are small eyes and ears and long thick brownish-coloured hairs.
It waddles about on its short legs with large flat paws and long claws that make them good at climbing trees.
The hairs on its coat look soft but they hide many barbed quills. It has strong bright orange-coloured teeth for chewing wood and seeds.
When attacked, a porcupine does not shoot its quills at enemies. Instead it arches its back and the quills stiffen when danger is near.
The quills are attached loosely to the skin and if the enemy does not leave the porcupine alone, it smacks the attacker with its tail and leaves quills in the animal’s face. The quills have tiny barbs (hooks) which make the quills difficult to remove.
Fishers (weasel-like animals) love porcupine meat. Although the fisher is small like a cat, it can flip over a porcupine and attack the soft unprotected stomach.
Other enemies of the porcupine are bobcats, bears, wolves, foxes and great horned owls. However, cars and trucks on the highway kill more porcupines than all its enemies put together.
During winter storms the porcupine may stay in its den. It does not hide but comes out to find something to eat. Porcupines do not wander far away from their homes.
Since porcupines are very short-sighted they must rely on sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell.
Porcupines are great swimmers because of their hollow quills.