Erethizontidae – New World porcupines

The prickliest of all rodents

These unique creatures are renowned for their impressive climbing abilities, with both North American and South American porcupines spending the majority of their time in trees. Despite their solitary nature, porcupines may congregate during the winter months, forming loose gatherings to share warmth and seek out potential mates in a display of seasonal social behavior.

The collective noun “prickle” aptly describes a group of porcupines, highlighting the distinctive appearance and behavior of these spiny rodents. Their formidable array of quills serves as a potent defense mechanism against predators, with each quill tipped with microscopic barbs that can easily penetrate flesh and cause discomfort to would-be attackers. This passive form of defense sends a clear message to potential predators that porcupines are not to be trifled with.

While New World porcupines primarily feed on plant matter, including bark, leaves, fruits, and roots, their diet may occasionally include small amounts of insects, eggs, or carrion. Despite their herbivorous tendencies, porcupines are opportunistic feeders, capable of exploiting a variety of food resources depending on availability and season.

The soft hair covering a porcupine’s head and forelimbs provides contrast to the sharp quills that adorn its body, serving as a tactile warning to potential predators. These quills, which are modified hairs made of keratin, are loosely attached to the porcupine’s skin and can be easily dislodged and embedded into the flesh of predators upon contact. This defense mechanism is highly effective in deterring attacks and ensuring the porcupine’s survival in its often hostile environment.

In addition to their ecological significance, Erethizontidae play important roles in ecosystem dynamics and community structure. As herbivores, they contribute to seed dispersal and forest regeneration through their foraging activities while also serving as prey for a variety of predators, including carnivorous mammals and birds of prey.