Porcupines can be best recognized by the distinctive coat of quills they wear on their backs. Porcupines are part of the rodent family. They live primarily in both deciduous and coniferous forests and woodlands in the western United States, as well as in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Porcupines are curious creatures. All of the porcupines in the United States are New World porcupines that migrated up from South America. They are mostly solitary creatures that move slowly but are agile climbers. As herbivores, they spend much of their time up high in trees foraging on leaves, pine needles, and bark. Porcupines set aside their solitary ways during their mating time which runs from September through December. About seven months later, the female gives birth to a porcupette. Porcupettes are born with a full set of quills that are soft but harden within hours of birth. By two weeks of age, porcupettes are feeding on green plants, fully weaned by three months, and begin to live independently at six months.
It is commonly believed that porcupines can fling their quills when confronted, but this is a misconception. Porcupine quills are built for easy release, so when a porcupine is in defensive mode, it turns its back toward its aggressor, allowing the quills to release upon contact.
Porcupines venture into residential areas for a surprising reason—they crave salt that they cannot get from their diet of leaves and bark, and there is plenty of it near humans. Some of their favorite sources of salt include car tires that have driven through salted streets, tool handles and boat oars found in sheds, horse saddles, and plywood that is glued with a sodium-based material.
Porcupines are an uncommon home intruder. If one is a regular in your yard, it is likely because of unusual circumstances such as a drought or food shortage.
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