The prickly porcupine

Protected by an amour of 30,000 rigid, prickly hairs, the American porcupine is not, however, safe from every danger. When threatened, this large rodent turns its back to its adversary, raises the quills on its rump and vigorously whacks its foe with its tail. The quills detach so easily that many have the false impression that the animal throws them.

The point of each quill is not poisonous, but each is equipped with tiny barbs that spread out on contact with the warm, moist flesh and gradually work their way into the victim. Almost impossible to remove, the quills leave a painful memory.

To renew its quills, the porcupine eats a mineral-rich vegetarian diet.

It gnaws tree bark, browses buds and leaves and consumes a variety of berries and nuts. Particularly fond of salt, the porcupine ambles along the edges of roads – attracted by vegetation covered with de-icing salt – where it risks being hit by a passing car. It also approaches camps to gnaw the plywood and the sweat-permeated handles of tools.

A good swimmer, the porcupine loves aquatic plants. It also climbs trees using its strong claws and its semi-prehensile tail. Active year-round, it shelters under a pile of rocks or an uprooted tree, in a crevice, or in a hollow tree. Its clumsy gait attracts the attention of predators.

The lynx, wolf, coyote and fox, the great horned owl and the golden eagle sometimes manage to outsmart this prey, but the fisher is the most effective. With a quick attack to the face, the cunning hunter disorients and weakens the porcupine, turns it on its back with a well-placed swipe of the paw, then follows up with a fatal bite to the abdomen, where the porcupine has no quills.

Because it produces only one offspring a year and in spite of its impressive armour, the porcupine remains one of the most vulnerable and fascinating creatures of the North American forest.

The porcupine is featured at Animalium, Mont-Tremblant’s zoological museum, in the exhibition dedicated to Québec wildlife.


By the same author: The loon, a special symbol in Canada (Click the image below)


Jacques Prescott71 Posts

Jacques Prescott est biologiste, professeur associé à la Chaire en éco-conseil de l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi et co-fondateur de l’Animalium, le musée zoologique de Mont-Tremblant. Spécialiste de la biodiversité et du développement durable, il est l’auteur de nombreux livres et articles sur la faune et la conservation de la nature. Il nous fait l’honneur de rejoindre notre équipe de collaborateurs et signera chaque mois une chronique intitulée Faune et flore. / Jacques Prescott is a biologist, associate professor with the Chair in Eco-Counselling of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and co-founder of Animalium, the zoological museum of Mont-Tremblant. A specialist in biodiversity and sustainable development, he is the author of numerous books and articles about wildlife and nature conservation. He has honoured us by joining our team of contributors and will write a monthly column entitled Wildlife and Habitat.


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