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Porcupines; Order: rodent. A porcupine’s habitat and range: forests, deserts, and grasslands of North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Porcupines can weigh from 2 to 60 pounds depending on the species. A prickly coat of needle-sharp quills is the porcupine’s best defense. Ordinarily the quills lay flat. But if an enemy approaches the porcupine will raise the quills and spread them, usually deterring the enemy. If the animal is not deterred the quills may lodge in the enemy’s flesh when the porcupine brushes against the animal. New quills grow in to relace the lost ones. The porcupine cannot throw its quills.
There are two groups of porcupines. They differ in habits and appearance. The porcupines of the Americas also climb trees. Some have been seen using their tails to hold on to branches. In the winter the North American porcupine eats evergreen needles and bark. When spring arrives they feed on leaves, buds, stems, and fruit.
Depending on the species, the gestation period is from 2 to 7 months, bearing 1 to 4 young.
The life span of captive porcupines can be as much as 20 years.
They are nearsighted, have a deep red shine to their eyes, and four toes on each front foot and five toes on each hind foot. But, apparently, looking different does not stop porcupines from being the most popular animals at the Museum. The habitat is home to two resident porcupines, who are aptly named Cactus and Lance.
The misunderstood porcupine is a boon to the Northwoods.
The common porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is a wonderful, necessary member of Northwoods wildlife, and I’m glad it is here in large numbers. Throw stones if you want, but I’ll stand by porkies.
They kill trees, you say? Well, owls, wood ducks, hooded mergansers and woodpeckers need homes too, and porcupines are part of nature’s snag-making team.
Porcupines hurt my dog, you say? Well, most dogs learn from that first painful mistake and don’t go near porcupines again. Only one of my family’s six hunting dogs hasn’t gotten a snootful of quills in recent years, and only one needed a second dose to learn the lesson. The other grousers now bark, from a distance, at the quill-pig.
Because of such mishaps, some porcupines are shot on sight. That’s a real shame because the porky isn’t only the prickliest resident of the Northwoods, it’s also one of the most interesting.
Porkies are the second-largest rodent in Wisconsin after the North American beaver. They can weigh 30 pounds or more in summer but their weight drops dramatically during the lean months of winter. Porcupines live in the northern two-thirds of the state in a territory that extends in a V-shape from about the Ellsworth area in Pierce County down to Wisconsin Dells and back up toward Green Bay.
Porcupines, like most rodents, are vegetarians. Their winter diet consists of conifer needles, buds and the bark of pines, hemlock, maples and birch. How these critters survive on foods with a protein content of only two to three percent is truly amazing.
Porcupines are sloppy eaters who drop a lot of greenery that provides a welcome snack for white-tailed deer during deep snows. If you spot a small pile of freshly-snipped branches on a winter walk, it’s likely porcupines are nearby. Their winter dens are easy to find — just follow your eyes and nose. Porcupines winter in caves and hollow logs. They travel the same paths every day. Near their dens you’ll see distinctive fecal piles and smell the strong scent of concentrated urine.
In spring, abundant food allows the porcupines to roam more freely, and they grow fat and healthy while dozing in the dog days of summer. Porkies consume tender shoots, succulent twigs, roots, seeds and (often to the dismay of gardeners) apples, melons, carrots, potatoes and other juicy produce. Nor are the gardener’s tools immune to the porcupine’s gouging incisors. The animals need sodium to rid their bodies of high levels of potassium from leaves and bark. Axe handles, hoes, canoe paddles, gloves and anything else touched by salty human hands are porcupine magnets.
When defending itself, a porcupine sits very still, faces away from its enemy, raises up, bristles and rattles its quill-studded tail, protecting vital areas from potential predators with up to 30,000 barbed quills.
Although porkies are slow, ambling creatures, it’s not always easy to keep your distance. A deer-hunting friend of mine still talks about his close encounter. Gary was sitting in his tree stand one day when a young-of-the-year porcupine climbed up the same tree and took a seat directly adjacent to Gary’s face. He was kind of cute (the baby porky, that is), as he sat there making little noises with his teeth and watching this newcomer to the tree. Somehow Gary didn’t find much to admire. He just kept a real close eye on the porky’s tail and slowly, calmly eased out of his stand and made his way down the tree. His heart was pounding pretty hard as he reached the ground and looked up at the porky still perched on a branch.
Only one predator poses a significant threat to porcupines — the fisher. These large weasels will wait for the right moment and inflict quick bites to the porcupine’s face and nose, areas that can take little abuse before the injury is fatal.
The porcupine is relatively silent throughout its life, so many people don’t recognize the whining squeal that sounds like a cross between a piglet and a crying baby. The sound varies in pitch and is most often heard in areas with rocky knobs and a good mix of conifers and hardwoods — prime porcupine habitat.
Native Americans had both respect and use for the porcupine. Its quills were incorporated in elaborate embroidered pieces, baskets and artwork. Porcupine quills were bartered and traded with plains tribes who had less frequent contact with the woodland creature.
So keep an eye out for the barbed quill-pig of the woods on your next winter walk. And if one finds you, show some respect.
Alan D. Martin writes from Caledonia, Wis.
These 5 week-old babies love their ba-ba but also ALREADY eat solid foods.
There are two families or porcupines, Hystricidae (Old World Porcupines) and Erethizontidae (New World Porcupines). There are many similarities between the two families, but for this text, we will consider only the African Crested Porcupine. They inhabit deserts, grasslands and adjoining forests.
Species: Cristata or Africaeaustralis
They have a stocky body with short legs. Their body, head and tail are covered with a coating of hair and a variety of bristles and quills. The africaeaustralis is larger with longer, heavier quills. Their quills are not barbed as they are in the New World Porcupines. The quills are of varying length and diameter but some of these quills can be as long as 15 inches and 3/8″ in diameter. They have the ability to rattle their quills when alarmed. This species has rattle quills in its tail that are larger and hollow on the end furthest from the body. These quills are hollow and produce a hissing rattle when the tail is vibrated. If you wish to purchase some quills see Quills For Sale.
Their tail is short in comparison to other porcupines. They have four clawed digits on the forefeet and five digits on the hind feet. Their dentition is i1/1, c0/0, p1/1, m3/3 x 2 for a total of 20 teeth. They are black in color with white rings on the quills and a crest on the head. Their normal body temperature is 99-100 degrees F.
Females have 2-3 pairs of teats in two rows located just behind the shoulders, on the side of the chest. The male has no external scrotum. The penis can be palpated through the skin in the area just anterior to the anus. Breeding normally takes place from March to December in the wild but in captivity, it takes place all year round. Their estrus cycle is about 35 days and gestation is from 93 to 112 days. The litter can be from one to four can be two babies. They are born with their eyes open and soft quills. The mother is very dedicated and will protect her baby with great ferocity. They weigh 12 oz. at birth and nurse for about 3-1/2 months. Sexual maturity is at 9 to 18 months.
Mating can understandably be quite a ritual. The female must be receptive or she will act very aggressively towards a courting male. If she is receptive, the male begins by standing motionless in front of the female. He approaches her and retreats back and forth over and over making vocalizations to her. When she decides the time is right, she put her tail up and he mounts by clasping her sides with his front paws and balancing on his hind feet. They are mainly terrestrial and nocturnal in habit. They inhabit crevices, caves or burrows, mostly dug by other animals. They usually drag leaf and plant material into their nest. In the wild they eat vegetable matter and some carrion. They enjoy gnawing trees, bushes and bones. They shuffle as they run and can gallop if necessary. They are good swimmers and can climb if necessary. This species has quills that are used as ornaments and talismans. They hunted for their meat and are considered agricultural pests in many areas where they damage crops and trees by chewing the bark. The New World porcupines have an average live span of 10 years while Old World porcupines live an average of 20 years.
Although these animals usually forage alone, they may be found in small family groups in their den.
Enclosures for captive adult animals should be have no more than 2″ x 4″ openings, and should prevent escape by climbing, by using a cover. Provide a place they can hide, like a dog igloo or tunnel made of wood. Or stack hay bales up to form a wall in an inside enclosure. Avid chewers they will prune anything possible.
Fresh vegetables/fruits: carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage, greens, apples, pears, etc.
Free choice hay and non-toxic branches (willow, birch, etc.)
Purina Lagomorph, Purina Mazuri Browser and Purina Mazuri Omnivore Zoo A Diets and rodent block can be added. The browser diet is a good source of the type of fiber the porcupine eats in the wild
This mom has two new babies. Their bodies are about the size of a goose egg when born.
We hesitate to list quantities because individuals vary according to size, sex, maturity, activity level, stage of pregnancy or lactation. Use this only as a guide, and monitor the animals weight and appetite. If the animal is gaining too much weight, reduce the portion of food across the board, not one or two items. Pregnant or nursing mothers will need a larger portion, sometimes 2-3 times the normal diet for that individual.
Porcupines have a craving for salt and will gnaw on anything that may contain it such as worn gloves, shovel handles, etc. Furnish them with trace mineral salt sprinkled on their food or provide a trace mineral salt block. Be sure that they are not consuming too much salt if you put in a block.
In addition to the normal diet, all rodents MUST have something non-toxic to chew on such as willow or birch branches. Check with your county extension agent or poison control center if you wish to feed branches from trees you do not know are absolutely safe. If they do not have chewies, their teeth will not wear down properly and can grow extremely long causing injury to the roof of their mouth and other mouth parts.
Infants can be hand-reared using Esbilac with added vitamins. At one week of age, we blend in one cup of cooked, peeled sweet potato per quart of Esbilac. We mix the Esbilac 1 part powder to 2 parts water. We use a cross cut nipple to handle the thicker liquid. Be sure to eliminate any lumps or the nipple will get clogged. They should be kept at 75 degrees F. Feed every three hours until 3 weeks old, day and night. The next two weeks increase feedings, and decrease number of times per day, eliminating night feedings. From three days of age, offer solids including grass hay, romaine lettuce, grains, bread, rodent pellets, bark, roots, nuts, berries, fruits. When eating well, at about 10 weeks, eliminate milk.
A slip nylon collar can be used as a guide from 1 to 2 weeks of age. Be certain that the baby is getting proper air and above all – be gentle!
Some babies are slightly more resistant to handling. On these babies or ones we leave with the parents until 2 weeks, we pick up the baby with a doubled bath towel and cradle it with its feet pointing downwards and its head level. Offer the nipple. If it does not take the nipple, insert it into the mouth between the incisors and molars and rub it against the roof of the mouth.