The porcupine is one of the most interesting and unusual wildlife species in Minnesota. Despite a very slow walking pace and a low reproductive rate, its coat of long, sharp quills enables the porcupine to live a long life by protecting it from predators.
As soon as the quills are dry, a new-born porcupine can defend itself from some predators. Adults use their stiff quills as "braces" to help them climb trees. The quills have many barbs - a single porcupine may have as many as 39,000 barbs.
General description: A slow-moving mid-sized mammal with white-banded quills and somewhat roundish appearance.
Length: Adults are 24 to 40 inches long, including the five to seven inch tail.
Weight: Adults weigh from 18 to 35 pounds.
Color: Dark gray to black, with white-banded quills. Very old porcupines appear gray or white.
Males seek receptive females beginning in late fall. Females may announce their readiness to breed by "screaming" from a tree top. A single young is born in spring that already has its eyes open and has a complete set of quills. Twins do not occur in the porcupine world.
During summer, porcupines eat leaves, nuts, and berries. During other seasons, favored foods are the bark, buds, and needles of trees. Sometimes, porcupines strip bark to the extent that the trees die.
Predators always take a chance when they attack a porcupine, because they risk getting quills in the face and eyes. The fisher is most adept at killing the porcupine, but other predators include the bobcat, wolf, and coyote. All predators use the same method for attacking; this includes rapid bites to the porcupine's facial area, followed by biting into the quill-free underside.
Habitat and range
Porcupines are found throughout the upper two-thirds of Minnesota. There may be several porcupines in a square mile of forest habitat.
Population and management
The porcupine is unprotected in Minnesota. It has no value as a hunted or trapped species, but it is an important member of the forest community.
Porcupines will eat most anything. Salty items are consumed with relish, including axe handles, canoe paddles, outhouses, and even automobile radiator hoses.