1. Porcupines are classified as mammals and rodents. They are also called “quill pigs” which is what their name means in Latin. There are about two dozen species of porcupine.
2. The North American porcupine is the only species that lives in the U.S. and Canada, and is the largest of all porcupines. Porcupines live in the deciduous and coniferous forests of North America and Canada. Porcupines found in North and South America are good climbers and spend much of their time in trees. When not in trees or feeding, porcupines prefer the protection of a den. Dens can be found in rock crevices, caves, hollow logs, abandoned mines, and even under houses and barns. When porcupines are on the ground, they shuffle and waddle along.
3. They are short, fat, and covered with as many as 30,000 spiny quills. All porcupines have quills. Africa’s crested porcupine has quills that are nearly a foot long (30 cm). Porcupines have soft hair, but on their back, sides, and tail it is usually mixed with sharp quills. The quills lie flat, but will spring up if the porcupine is threatened. The porcupine cannot shoot its quills at a predator, but the quills will detach from the porcupine relatively easily. An animal that attacks a porcupine will usually end up with a face full of quills. Quills have sharp tips and overlapping scales or barbs that make them difficult to remove once they are stuck in another animal's skin. Porcupines grow new quills to replace the ones they lose.
4. From the tip of the nose to the end of the tail, a porcupine can be from 33 to 46 inches (80 to 115 cm) long. They can weigh from 12 to 35 lbs (5 to 16 kg).
5. Porcupines make shrill screeches, whines, and low grunts to communicate.
6. Porcupines are nocturnal, which means they are active primarily at night.
7. In the wild, porcupines live from 5 to 7 years, but some have been known to live as long as 18 years.
8. The porcupine lives on plants, shrubs, leaves, dandelions, clover, grasses and wildflowers. They eat natural bark and stems, and have been known to chew on canoe paddles. North American porcupines also eat fruit and springtime buds. Porcupines can swim, so pond weeds, water lilies, and arrowhead are all part of the summer diet. In the winter they will eat the inner bark of trees and evergreen needles. Their favorite trees are hemlock. North American porcupines use their large front teeth to satisfy this healthy appetite for wood. Porcupines are attracted by salt and may chew on any tool handle that has salt left from human sweat.
9. Females maintain a territory where they live, and will defend it against other females; however male territories typically overlap those of several females. The territories of dominant males rarely overlap. Breeding occurs in October and November. Porcupines will carry their babies about 210 days before they give birth. When the female gives birth it is to one baby. The mother will nurse her young for about 4 months. The baby will begin living independently at the age of 5 months. Baby porcupines are called "porcupettes."
10. In spite of this prickly suit of armor, there are some animals that prey on porcupines. The fisher is the most formidable predator, but great horned owls, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and wolves will make a meal out of the porcupine if there's an opportunity.