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Natural History

The porcupine is a rodent with brownish-yellow fur and strong, short legs. It has hairless soles on its feet that help it climb trees and a round body, small ears and a small head. The most recognizable feature of the porcupine is its quills which are hairs with barbed tips on the ends. The porcupine has quills on all parts of its body, except for its stomach. The porcupine is not an aggressive animal, it will only attack if it is threatened. When a predator approaches, the porcupine will turn its back, raise the quills and lash out at the threat with its tail. If the porcupine hits an animal with its quills, they break off and become embedded. The porcupine lives in coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests. In the west, it can be found in scrubby areas. The animal is a herbivore, feeding on leaves, twigs and green plants. In the winter, it may eat bark and will often climbs trees to find food.

The porcupine at right was photographed in a zoo, although I have seen a porcupine in Arizona at the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Porcupines are mostly nocturnal, but will sometimes forage for food in the day. They mate in late summer and early fall. Seven months after mating the female gives birth to a single baby. When the baby is born, its quills are soft, hardening about an hour after birth. The baby is begins to forage for food after only a couple of days, but will stay with its mother for about six months. Porcupines are solitary animals, although it may den with other porcupines in the winter. It makes its den in caves, decaying logs and hollow trees. The common porcupine doesn't hibernate, but it may stay in its den during bad weather.

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