I’m a Porcupette

Young porcupine, May 2013 (photo by Meredith Lombard)

19 June 2013

Since Meredith Lombard posted this cute photo of a baby porcupine last month, I’ve learned that the truth about these rodents is stranger than fiction.

For starters, baby porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) are called porcupettes.

Each porcupette is an only child, born precocial with open eyes, well formed teeth, a full coat of fur, and able to climb trees a few hours after birth.  In only two weeks he eats green plants.  In three months, he’s weaned.

Like his parents he has three kinds of fur: a woolly undercoat, long coarse guard hairs, and sharp hollow quills with barbs at the tip that slant backward.  When born his quills are soft and harmless (good thing for his mother!) but within half an hour they’ve stiffened into the protective coat that saves his life.  The only place he doesn’t have quills is on his belly, just like his parents.

Neither he nor his parents “throw” their quills but the quills are so loosely attached that they stick easily to any critter that comes close.  That includes dad when he approaches mom to conceive a porcupette.

Needless to say copulation is a very careful business for porcupines.  No hugs are involved, but there’s a lot of courting to get her in the mood.   Dad whines and dances on three legs, holding his genitals with his forepaw or rubbing them with a stick.  When she says “You’re the one” he showers her with urine. Then they mate.

“This is not like normal urination,” Uldis Roze says, “It’s a high velocity signal” with droplets that can target a female on a faraway branch.” 

— National Geographic, Get To The Point: 5 Fast Facts About Porcupines

All of that happens in October or November.  Seven months later: a porcupette.

(photo by Meredith Lombard)

Acknowledgments: Porcupine courtship information is from Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania by Joseph F. Merritt. Uldis Roze(*), quoted above, is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Queens College and author of The North American Porcupine.

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