Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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Notice: The Zoo Will Close at 1 p.m. on Friday, August 2 to Prepare for Brew at the Zoo. Admission will end at noon.

North American Porcupine

Erethizon dorsatum

The North American porcupine is the only mammal in North America that uses quills to defend itself from predators. They are arboreal, spending much of their time in trees.

Range & Habitat

Forests, deserts, grasslands, chaparral, scrublands, mountains, and tundra of the northeastern and western parts of the United States, Alaska, Canada, and northern Mexico. They are known to live in hollow trees and stone crevices.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Least Concern; however, hunting by humans has decreased their numbers dramatically in some areas.


In the Wild: A facultative specialist that eats fruits, seeds, buds, and shoots in the warmer months, and the inner bark of trees and evergreen needles in the colder months.

At the Zoo: Vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, leafeater biscuits and rodent pellets.

Life Span

In the Wild: 5-7 years; In Human Care: up to 18 years.

Fun Facts about the North American Porcupine

  • The North American Porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America, right behind the North American Beaver. Their front teeth, called incisors, never stop growing; they chew on bark and hard materials to file them down.
  • North American Porcupines are covered with about 30,000 quills used for protection. They cannot shoot their quills, but the quills are loosely attached and can easily adhere to predators. The sharp barb on the end makes them difficult to remove from their target.
  • North American Porcupines are excellent climbers and swimmers. The pebbly texture of the pads of their feet aid in gripping and sensing the tree bark. They use their sturdy tails to gain friction on the tree and prevent themselves from sliding downward. North American Porcupines have hollow quills which aid them in staying afloat in the water and help them swim.


S. (2020, March 31). North American porcupine. Retrieved May 06, 2020, from

S. (2020). North American porcupine. Retrieved May 06, 2020, from

Weber, C. (2004). Erethizon dorsatum (North American porcupine). Retrieved May 06, 2020, from /Erethizon_dorsatum/

Updated June 13, 2023
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