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what do porcupines eat

what do porcupines eat

what do pocupines eat

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what do pocupines eat

nstantly recognizable from the sharp, spiky quills covering their bodies, porcupines are among the largest rodents on earth. Most people know what they look like, but what do porcupines eat? The vast majority of porcupine species are strict herbivores, but there are exceptions. Depending on where they live, many porcupines’ diets shift with the changing seasons.

Because most of these rodents are strict herbivores, they mostly eat things like fruits, leaves, roots, and bulbs. Their diets vary by region, species, and even season, but popular staples include tree barks, sweet potatoes, bamboo shoots, beans, nuts, skunk cabbage, twigs, and carrots. Some species may opportunistically feed on carrion, or dead animals, as well as insects.

what do porcupines eat
what do porcupines eat


porcupines are generally herbivorous, preferring to chow down on delicacies such as tree bark and roots but they are not too picky at all and some are not as innocent as you may think. To answer the question more specifically would mean looking into individual species and their geographical location.

Other than the main preference of bark and roots; foliage, fruit, shoots and sometimes insects have been recorded to be devoured by species all over the globe. There have however been records of porcupine scavenging the meat from animal carcasses too, which they have dragged back to their dens to consume; they’re not picky at all!

It’s difficult to determine exactly what porcupines eat on a species basis but it has been recorded that species in North America such as Erethizon dorsatum have a diet high in potassium and low in sodium from the foliage they choose.

Their diet high in potassium has led them to gnaw on the wood of outhouses in camping grounds because (as disgusting as it is) the urine soaked wood is particularly appealing and give them the sodium they need, making them somewhat a menace to campground owners.

Their sodium craving has them gnawing away at such a high variety of unexpected food sources due to salts emitted by humans and animals as they sweat or that just naturally occur in the composition of wooden materials. Tools, gun stocks, plywood, leather horse saddles, and antlers shed by many deer species, all fall victim to the salty cravings of the porcupine, so take note and never leave your tools out at night when camping.

Porcupines Diet by Types

Two main categories of porcupines exist; the Old-World porcupines classified under the family Hystricidae and the New-World porcupines classified under the family Erethizontidae.

  • The Old-World porcupines inhabit most of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe.
  • The New World porcupines are native to North and Southern America.
  • These two types of porcupines are very different from each other. For example, the old-world porcupines are heavily built with rounded heads. They also have flattened or cylindrical spines lining their bodies.
  • On the other hand, new-world monkeys are large rodents with rounded heads and blunt noses whose spines that cover their bodies are mixed with long soft hairs.

The following sections will explore the different porcupine species classified under the two distinct categories.

what do porcupines eat
what do porcupines eat

Trees for Living and Eating

Porcupines are arboreal, built for climbing trees. Their prehensile tails make the task of living in the trees easier. Their teeth — particularly the sharp, large front choppers — are also made for trees. Porcupines have a good appetite for wood and make meals of bark they strip from trees. In fact, the North American porcupine has made a few people prickly because his bark-stripping ways kill timber and ornamental trees.

What do North American porcupine eat?

Porcupines are generalist herbivores, however their diet changes because of changes in plant chemistry. Feeding rates also change seasonally. In the spring and summer months feeding rates are reduced because plants contain a lot of protein. However, as the protein content of plants decreases in the autumn, feeding rates increase.

Different porcupine populations have different diets. Porcupines in the Rocky Mountains mostly eat ponderosa pine phloem. Porcupines in eastern forests feed on many different trees. In Massachussettes, porcupines rarely eat bark, but in Texas, they forage largely on bark.

The crucial nutritional resource for porcupines is nitrogen. In winter, porcupines get nitrogen from bark, twigs, and evergreen needles. Because these are not good sources of nitrogen, porcupines constantly loose weight throughout the winter.

Porcupines can forage on low nitrogen foods because they have a unique ability to retain nitrogen from their food. Porcupines can digest very high fiber foods because food stays in their digestive tract for a very long time, allowing them to extract nutrients from this food.

The diets of porcupines living in eastern deciduous forests have been well studied. In the spring, porcupines eat the buds of sugar maple trees, which are a rich source of protein. As soon as the leaves flush out, the sugar maple is abandoned because the leaves contain high amounts of tannins (chemicals toxic to porcupines). Porcupines begin to eat the cambium of basswood, aspen, and sapling beech trees.

what do porcupines eat
what do porcupines eat

North American porcupine

These contain a lot of protein and only a little tannin. Also ash trees are fed upon heavily, because they are relatively easy to climb (compared to the smooth bark of beeches), and because they have relatively low tannin levels. In the autumn when oak acorns and beech nuts become available, porcupines begin to feed on these. Porcupines are best a getting these nuts out of trees, and after the nuts have fallen to the ground, most of them are eaten by deer and squirrels. Winter foraging is focused on the phloem of hemlock and sugar maple trees.

Other foods utilized by porcupines include raspberry stems, grasses, flowering herbs, and a large amount of apples. Herbivory has an effect on the sodium metabolism of porcupines, which results in a lust for salt. Porcupines will chew on the wooden handles of human tools, other human-made wood structures, and areas of collected roadside salt runoff.

Porcupine feeding happens primarily at night. This is because of changes in plant and leaf chemistry at night. Porcupines take advantage of the added nutrients available during the night-time metabolic processes of plants.

Seasonal Diet Transformations

Like many other animals’ diets, Porcupine diets transform throughout the seasons, although they stay predominantly plant eaters. In wintertime, porcupines turn to trees for sustenance, from the cambium and the bark to even the pine needles. Porcupines are especially fond of white pine needles. During the summer, porcupines consume diverse varieties of other things, such as nuts, herbs, acorns, beechnuts, berries and fruits

Summer Variety

The season will impact what and how much a porcupine eats. In the summer, the protein choices are more abundant, so they eat less and tend to focus on the season’s bounty. In the winter months, trees are important food sources, providing pine needles and the bark they enjoy so much.

Winter Signs of a Porcupine

In the wintertime, it sometimes is rather easy to observe what exactly a porcupine has been eating. If you notice a tree’s trunk has been entirely uncovered or that the bark has been taken off all of its branches, a porcupine may just have had a very tasty meal in the spot you’re looking at.

what do porcupines eat
what do porcupines eat


The porcupine is generally found in coniferous forests, but may also frequent mixed or deciduous stands in search of food. Each adult porcupine has a home range of six to 14 acres in size, depending on food availability. The porcupine tends to stay in the same home range and reuses the same den year after year.

It is solitary by nature but may den with other porcupines in the winter. The porcupine does not hibernate, but will stay in dens during bad weather. It may build a nest but also might den in a hollow log or tree, rock ledge, abandoned burrow of another animal, under a stump or blown down tree, or even under a building.

It is primarily nocturnal, mostly active at night, but does forage during the day. When not seeking cover from the weather or fishers, the porcupine spends most of its time in the trees feeding and resting.

When confronted, the porcupine will place his nose between his front legs and spin around so that its tail end is facing the predator. If it is attacked, the porcupine will strike its assailant with its tail and the easily detachable quills will become embedded in the skin of the attacker.

A common misconception is that the porcupine has the ability to eject or throw its quills, but this is not true. The quills are designed to release when coming into contact with another animal.

Porcupine Quills

Porcupines have soft hair, but on their back, sides, and tail it is usually mixed with sharp quills. These quills typically lie flat until a porcupine is threatened, then leap to attention as a persuasive deterrent. Porcupines cannot shoot them at predators as once thought, but the quills do detach easily when touched.

Many animals come away from a porcupine encounter with quills protruding from their own snouts or bodies. Quills have sharp tips and overlapping scales or barbs that make them difficult to remove once they are stuck in another animal’s skin. Porcupines grow new quills to replace the ones they lose.

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