Porcupines are the third biggest rodents in the world, and the second biggest in North America.
In Latin, the word porcupine means ‘quill pig’, however, porcupines are not related to pigs in any way, and in English, ‘porcupine’ means ‘one who rises up in anger’.
Porcupines don’t have very good vision but they have an excellent sense of smell. They are also very noisy animals and make loud screeches, low grunts and whines.
Porcupines have round bodies, and they are covered with many spines or quills that can be grey, brown or white. Their spines are usually flat, but when they are in danger, the spines spring up to scare away predators. Their size depends on the species but they usually measure 80–115 centimetres in length (including their tail). Their weight is usually between 5–16 kilograms. The smallest porcupine is called the Rothschilds Porcupine which is from South America and it only weighs 1 kilogram. The biggest porcupine is the African Porcupine which can weigh above 20 kilograms!
Young porcupines are called ‘porcupettes’. Porcupettes have no spines or quills when they are born, but they have lots of small bristles. Their eyes open a little while after they are born, and they are able to leave the nest after one week, which is when their bristles then grow longer and begin to harden. Most porcupines live on their own when they’re about 2 months old. Porcupines live for around 10 years.
Porcupines live in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. The only species of porcupine that lives in the U.S is the North American porcupine. Porcupines live in deserts, grasslands and forests. Some species of porcupine can actually live in trees! And some live in rocky mountains up to 3,500 metres high! Porcupines can sometimes be found living inside caves and logs. Some species of porcupine, like the African Porcupine, live with their families in groups who share the burrows. In the winter, they cuddle together for warmth.
In the winter, porcupines eat branches, tree bark and pine needles. In spring porcupines eat the fresh grass. In summer they eat berries, nuts, roots, flowers, leaves and seeds. Porcupines absolutely love salt, and sometimes they will gnaw at salt placed down to get rid of ice on roads which can lead to injury or even death because they get knocked by vehicles. Fishers, (weasel-like animals) prey on porcupines.
We went to the Jardin Zoologique de Rabat (Zoological Garden of Rabat), in Morocco, and one of the animals there were the porcupines. The zoo keepers there were all very nice, one of them even gave us some of the porcupine quills that were on the ground (the ones that had naturally fallen out)!