Updated: Aug 30
August is PORCUPINE MONTH here at Calgary Wildlife, and we can't wait to tell you all about our spikey friend the porcupine.
Did you know that porcupines belong to the rodent family? Porcupines are the second largest member of the rodent family found in Canada, only the beaver is bigger. While they are mostly solitary in nature, in times when they do gather, a group of porcupines is called a PRICKLE!
The only species of porcupine found in Canada is the the North American Porcupine. North American porcupines are native to the coniferous and mixed-forest habitats of Canada, but also the northeastern and western regions of the United States and even reach as far as northern Mexico. That is quite a large distribution for one species! Besides forests, porcupines can also be found in grasslands, desert shrub communities, and even the tundra, showing that they are clearly very adaptable critters.
Porcupines are usually dark brown or black in colour, with white highlights. They have a stocky body, a small face, short legs, and a short, thick tail. The most distinguishing feature of the porcupine is its coat of quills. An adult porcupine has about 30,000 quills that cover all of its body except its underbelly, face, and feet.
Did you know that porcupine quills are simply modified hairs? Their quills are hairs that have formed into sharp, barbed, hollow spines.
They are mostly used for defense, but also serve to insulate their bodies during winter.
Stay tuned for more on porcupine quills and other spikey info coming soon.
For our second PORCUPINE MONTH post, let's take a look at porcupines doing what they do, while providing for others and the biggest common misconception about them.
Did you know that porcupines are vegetarian generalists when it comes to their food? They eat a wide range of plant material and their diet changes seasonally. In the summer porcupines will eat berries, seeds, grasses, leaves, roots and stems, but in the winter they focus in on evergreen needles and the inner bark of trees. They will often pick a favourite tree, stay up there for days and keep on snacking, causing lots of branches, needles and leaves to fall to the ground below; this in turn provides foraging material for many other animals to eat and use during the winter. Porcupines are ecosystem engineers!
One of the porcupine’s best-known and least-liked eating habits is that of chewing wood, leather and cork in and around camps, sheds, and backyards. They gnaw both salty and non-salty things, which indicates not only a craving for salt, but also a need to hone their continuously growing teeth.
Porcupines are nocturnal, meaning they are most active in the evening and night hours. Though when they have found a favourite tree, they may stay up there for days, looking like a big nest to passersby during daylight hours.
If you come across a porcupine, it will most likely be on its own. For much of the
year porcupines enjoy no social life and lead a solitary existence. However, porcupines may group together for winter denning or when there is an abundance of food.
Myth-buster: Despite what you may have heard, Porcupines can't shoot their quills!
As we mentioned earlier this month, porcupines are covered in about 30,000 quills. But they cannot throw or shoot their quills. A threatened porcupine with no option for shelter will chatter its teeth, hump its back and tuck its unprotected head between its shoulders. With all the quills erected, the porcupine will pivot on its front feet and keep its back to the enemy. As it stomps its back feet, it will also lash its tail threateningly. Quills are very lightly attached to the animal, they come off easily when a predator makes contact, and sometimes when a porcupine lashes its tail, some quills may fall out on their own. However, that is not the same as being able to shoot them, rest assured we are safe from flying quills!
For our last PORCUPINE MONTH post, let's talk about how we can all help keep porcupines wild and safe.
Did you know that Porcupines are terrific climbers? They regularly climb trees in search of food, however they actually spend the majority of their time on the ground. Porcupines spend time in small caves, under rocks, in hollow logs and wandering around. They are very slow moving animals who are mostly nocturnal (active at night), and it is these features that pose their biggest threat, making them frequent victims in roadway encounters.
Please drive extra carefully in the evening hours and look far ahead to prevent hitting these slow moving animals, as well as avoiding all types of wildlife collisions.
To reduce porcupine/pet encounters keep your pets on a leash when outdoors, especially if you suspect that there's a porcupine in the area. Dogs are often unable to resist investigating nearby porcupines and may suffer for their curiosity with a nose full of quills, often repeatedly.
Please do what you can to help our spikey friends the porcupines, and consider making a donation to our porcupine patients today.