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Porcupine Behavior

Porcupines are nocturnal animals that do not hibernate. For the most part, they spend their days sleeping and their nights looking for food. However, it is not too unusual to spot one during the day. They are active year round but often hide out in their dens during bad weather.

Porcupines are excellent climbers and swimmers. Their swimming prowess is attributed by some researchers to those air-filled quills atop their fur. It is those same quills that help them in crossing lakes and streams that keep them nearly predator free.

Indeed there are only a few animals brave enough to mess with the porcupine; these include the larger predators such as mountain lions, wolves and bobcats. Other predators include the lynx, fox and great horned owls. But the most effective predator is the fisher, a small wolverine like mammal that has figured out how to flip the porcupines over without getting hit with a snout full of quills. Other animals aren’t so lucky.

Researchers have noted that attacking with those quills is a last resort. The porcupine’s very first line of defense is climbing a tree. If this is not possible the animal raises its quills and begins to chatter its teeth to try to scare away the enemy, and/or they will emit a foul smelling substance to deter the animal, too. This substance comes from a gland, called the rosette, located just above the tail.

Contrary to what some believe the porcupine cannot shoot its quills out from its body. It instead swings its quill covered tail at the would-be attacker. The animal will dip its head between its legs and turn its back toward the predator. Once the enemy is close enough the porcupine lashes his tail. If the quills come into contact with the predator they quickly release from the porcupine and stick into the animal’s skin. The barbed quills, which present with spines facing opposite the pointy ends, are very hard to get out. In fact, the body heat from the predator actually causes the quills to swell inside their skin making removal even more difficult. And while they rarely cause infection (they carry a type of antibiotic compound) a poorly located quill has been blamed for predator animals starving to death because they cannot open their mouths.

Those bristly undersides are helpful to the animal, too. While they don’t assist in defense directly, the bristly fur is used to help the animal from falling out of trees.

On the family side of things, porcupines, unlike most other rodents, have only one (1) baby at a time. Mating season occurs during the late summer. The animals are quite vocal during mating season. The males perform a fairly complicated gestation dance for the females which end with the male spraying a stream of urine over her head. Once the male is successful in attracting a female for mating gestation will last seven (7) months. The babies are born with their eyes open and a body full of quills-softened quills. The quills harden a few hours after the birth. The babies, or pocupettes, wean after only one (1) week and are much more active than the adults. Young porcupines are off on their own at the end of six (6) months.

Porcupines are very vocal animals and make a variety of sounds including the tooth chattering mentioned above, as well as coughing and moaning and at some times even wailing and shrieking.

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