A large rodent is moving eastward in Nebraska; formally only common in the northwest portion of the state, porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) have been sighted recently in forested locations along the Missouri River.
The porcupine is a large rodent noted for quills and extremely long guard hairs on its back and tail. This rodent can easy weigh more than 30 pounds and appears as big as a raccoon because of the length of the hair and quills. Their coloration is a mixture of black, white, and grey hairs combined with yellowish black tipped quills.
Porcupines inhabit forested ecosystems dominated with conifer trees. They seem to prefer areas of rough terrain with hills and steep slopes over forested meadows or flatlands.
These large rodents are excellent climbers, able to move slowly and methodically up and down any tree. They will seek refuge in trees whenever challenged. During colder conditions, a porcupine seldom moves from its forested den, however, in warmer weather they will migrate and travel great distances. To the right is a porcupine sleeping in a tree, photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson.
Porcupines are herbivores, feeding on succulent tree buds/candles, nuts, and berries, as well as the nutrient-rich inner bark. In the spring they will browse on ground vegetation and shrubs. This rodent is especially attracted to salty items. Salt is so relished that porcupines chew on axe handles, canoe paddles, outhouses, and even automobile radiator hoses for the flavor. This is useful for those who want to attract them with bait for management or control.
Males seek receptive females beginning in late summer. Females may announce their readiness to breed by "screaming" from a tree top. Breeding takes place in early fall, with the peak of activity in September and October. The single young is born about 7 months later in May. It usually nurses for only a month and begins to feed on vegetation shortly after birth. The young porcupine grows slowly as compared with most rodents, yet becomes entirely independent in just a couple of months.
Predators include bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes. All predators use the same method for attacking - rapid bites to the porcupine's facial area, followed by biting into the quill-free underside. The photo of the porcupine is by Arthur Chapman, at EOL.org
Native Americans of North America used porcupine quills as decorations in their clothing, bags, or other items. Often, the quills were dyed bright colors, then sewn, wrapped, or appliqued on materials such as animal hides or birchbark.