Where the porcupine lives

It is found almost anywhere in Canada where there are trees. It spends much of its time in tall trees eating the bark and branches. This animal sleeps during the day in a hollow log or in a den under some rocks. The porcupine has more than one den. It may nest high up in a tree.


size - 60 to 100 cm. (2-3 ft.)
courtesy of US Bureau of Land Management

The porcupine has a small head, almost no neck, small eyes and ears and long thick brownish-coloured hairs. It waddles about on its short legs. The large flat paws and long claws are good for climbing trees.
The hairs on its coat look soft but the hairs hide many barbed quills.
It has strong bright orange-coloured teeth for chewing wood and seeds.

Adaptation and protection

Porcupines do not shoot their quills at enemies. The animal arches its back and the quills stiffen when danger is near. The quills are attached loosely to the skin. If the enemy does not leave the porcupine alone, it smacks the attacker with its tail and leaves quills in the animal's face. The quills have tiny barbs (hooks) which make the quills difficult to remove.

During winter storms the porcupine may stay in its den. It does not hibernate but comes out to find something to eat. The porcupine does not wander far from its home.

Because porcupines are very short-sighted they must rely on sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell.

Porcupines are good tree climbers. They have hard pads on their paws and long sharp claws so they can get a good grip on a tree trunk.

courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service


Porcupines feed on tree bark, branches and pine needles in the winter. In spring porcupines eat the new green grass. In summer they eat roots, leaves, berries, seeds, nuts and flowers.


Fishers (weasel-like animals) love porcupine meat. Although the fisher is small (cat size) it can flip over a porcupine and attack the soft unprotected stomach.

Logging companies do not like porcupines because they eat the bark of trees and this can kill trees. In some areas the fisher has been brought in to control the number of porcupines.

Other enemies of the porcupine are bobcats, bears, wolves, foxes and great horned owls.

This animal has poor eyesight and moves slowly. They are often killed as they cross highways. Cars and trucks kill more porcupines than all other enemies put together.


One baby is born in the spring. The baby is covered with long black hair and short quills that are soft. It can walk and is able to climb in less than a week. It will drink its mother's milk for about a month.

porcupine quills

Other facts

  • The Indians used the quills to decorate clothing, moccasins, pouches and birchbark boxes.
  • Porcupines are rodents (animals with sharp teeth for gnawing)
  • They may live for ten years or more.
  • Early settlers found the porcupine good to eat.
  • The porcupine is a pest - it kills trees by eating the bark.
  • Porcupines can swim well because of the hollow quills.
  • Every summer a porcupine moults (loses hair) but the quills do not fall out all at once.
  • Porcupines love the taste of salt.


photo credits:
Mark Armstrong, US Bureau of Land Management
porcupine in a tree - US Fish and Wildlife Service
quills - public domain, from wikipedia
from the Wildlife Fact-File and the Canadian Wildlife Service

web page by J.Giannetta
2000 (updated 2011)

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