Whatcom Magazine

Northwest nature: North American porcupine

The North American porcupine ( Erethizon dorsatum, such as the one shown from Woodland Park Zoo), is the second largest rodent native to the continent, trailing only the beaver in size. Adult porcupines can reach 40 inches in length, with another 11 inches for the tail, and can weigh up to 15 pounds, sometimes more.

Porcupines prefer forests, where they can live up to 15 years in the wild. They eat bark and cambium (thin layer of tissue next to bark) of various trees, as well as grass, twigs, roots, flowers, seeds and other vegetation. They also like to gnaw bones and antlers for their mineral content.

While nearsighted, porcupines have sharp senses of smell, hearing and touch. They also have 30,000 or more quills that cover its body, except for the snout, throat, belly and footpads.

As most people know, the quills are loosely attached so they can imbed easily in an attacker, with barbed ends that work deep into the attacker’s flesh. Fortunately, interactions between Whatcom residents and porcupines don’t need to be frequent; porcupines are generally solitary and nocturnal.