The North American Porcupine’s Social Behavior (They’re Quite Solitary)

Aloof, shy, and independent. These are not the usual words you think about when you see the roly-poly porcupine waddling from tree to tree.

In the wild, the North American porcupine is prickly around other creatures (even its own kind!) and is extraordinarily self-reliant. 

Are they the ultimate introverts or loners of the forests? How do North American porcupines interact among themselves and what is their relationship like with other species? Keep reading, as Floofmania explores the answer!

Are Porcupines Social Creatures?

The porcupine’s prickly nature is not just because of its quills. They live independent lives as adults and tend to avoid mixing with others of their own kind except on a few occasions.

When do these porcupine get-togethers happen?

Do Porcupines Live In Packs or Groups?

Unlike other porcupine species, adult North American porcupines do not live in pairs, packs, or groups. 

It may be because the North American porcupine is arboreal and spends most of the time safely out of reach of natural predators in the tree tops. This, in addition to their impressive quill armor, is usually enough to protect them, so there isn’t much need to cluster together for the survival of the species. 

Compare this with porcupine species living in family groups, for example, the African crested porcupine and the Malayan porcupine. The African crested has that trademark mohawk and much larger striped quills, while the Malayan is a smaller version of this.

Both are not as furry in the face as the North American porcupine, do not have that distinctly rounded back, and have much thicker spikes on their rear. 

The African crested and Malayan porcupines are terrestrial, living in burrows underground or in caves and foraging on the ground in open habitats.

While they do have very large quills, they also have many large predators in their environments such as big cats, coyotes, wild dogs, and even large birds of prey– and they cannot clamber up a tree to escape. So it makes sense that they live in family groups for protection and better chances of survival. 

And did you know that these family-oriented porcupines can produce more than one offspring a litter? The Malayan porcupine can give birth more than once a year too. Meanwhile, their North American porcupine cousins produce just one offspring once a year and their population is just fine.

I guess you can say the North American porcupine has it kind of easier so they can more easily get by on their own in the wild. 

What’s A Group of Porcupines Called?

Two or more porcupines gathered together is called a “prickle”. This could be a mated pair, a mated pair plus their offspring, or just a group of quill pigs who happen to share a space together. 

Let’s talk about the few instances when one would find a prickle of Noth American porcupines.

Do Porcupine “Families” Stay Together?

Yes! The sow (female porcupine) and the porcupette (baby) make up a family and is the first prickle or family unit, a newborn is introduced to. The father returns to solitary living after mating and does not take part in raising the offspring. 

The mother and porcupette stay together for a time before the juvenile porcupine ventures out on its own after 5-6 months. 

This seems to be the only period of actual communal living for North American porcupines in the wild. You will notice that future interactions with their own kind involve competing or barely tolerating each other as they share scarce resources. 

How Many Young Does A Porcupine Mother Have At A Time?

There is typically one porcupette born per litter, twins are very rare. Even at the start of life, young porcupines have very limited socialization with their kind! 

And they will get used to limited exposure to other animals during their development period too.

Early in their life, the mother porcupine hides them in the den or in tall grass to keep them safe from predators while she forages by herself. Their mother practices a rather hands-off style of parenting.

How Do Mother And Baby Porcupines Communicate?

Mother and baby porcupines indicate their location to each other by grunts and also communicate with low whining and the occasional nudging with the nose.

Being nocturnal, nearsighted creatures, touch, and the numerous sounds a porcupine can make are the most practical mode to keep connected as they move around in the dark forests.

How Long Do Young Porcupines Stay With Their Mother?

It takes 5 to 6 months for a young porcupine to develop and get ready to live completely independently.

In the first few weeks of nursing, the mother stays close by, but sleeps up in the tree while the baby stays in a den on the ground. At about 6 weeks when the porcupette is strong enough to climb, it joins the mother in foraging and resting in the trees.

Check out this video of a mother and baby walking together around someone’s property, presumably looking for food. The baby looks quite young but sturdy, and on this excursion is learning about where and how to find snacks. 

The porcupette is completely weaned at about 3 months of age but remains in contact with the mother for a couple more months to learn about feeding and resting locations. The mother forages farther by herself and returns to her offspring at nighttime, and they gradually spend more time apart until the 5th or 6th month. 

By the 6th or 7th month after being born, usually around November to December, the offspring wanders off to face its first winter on its own. 

So you can see that even within the family, a porcupine is taught independence and self-sufficiency very early on. 

How Often Do Adult Porcupines Actually Meet?

Once a porcupine leaves its mother, it starts its solo living and meets other adult porcupines only when necessary, or by accident.

This happens when they wander into each other’s home ranges, during mating season in late fall, and when they are forced to share or compete for resources during wintertime.

Do Porcupines Like To Stick To a “Home Range”?

An adult porcupine finds its own home range and tends to stay there, away from other porcupines, to make sure each one has adequate food, shelter, and access to a potential mate.

A ‘home range’ is simply an area an animal moves around in to meet its daily needs. It is a looser term than a ‘territory’, which is an area that an animal actively defends and wants to maintain exclusively for its group’s own.  

At 5 or 6 months, female North American porcupines leave the home range of their mother, while the males can stay in the area of their birth. Female home ranges typically do not overlap and the same is true for the males. But male home ranges may overlap female ones, which is useful during the breeding season.

How Big Is A Porcupine’s Home Range?

The size depends on the resources available to the porcupines in the area, whether male or female and the season. 

Dominant males have the biggest home ranges, followed by non-dominant males and females. 

During summer when vegetation and greens are abundant, home ranges are larger. In the winter porcupines limit their movement to smaller areas because they need quick access to their dens to keep warm, and there really isn’t much food to forage any farther away. 

On average, estimates of adult porcupine home bases range from up 6 to 70 acres

What Happens When Porcupines Stray Into Others’ Home Range?

Porcupines are not known to actively defend their home ranges. They have some flexibility given the changing sizes and even locations of their home range. 

Are Porcupines Territorial?

No, porcupines do not maintain strict territories within their home range. 

Occasionally, there will be fighting over food or space, but these encounters are quick and result in leaving each other be. 

Watch this video of two adult porcupines’ encounter up on a tree, where we hear a lot of vocalization, see a bit of posturing and slapping, and one leaves to find a more suitable spot for himself away from the current tree resident. 

In this second video, we see a quick fight over food, which is also resolved in a matter of seconds after they decide to share peacefully almost side by side.

How Do Porcupines Say “Back Off!”?

Porcupines may feel stress in the presence of their fellow porcupines, or if faced with predators and even humans. 

When they feel threatened, they chatter their teeth and bark. Listen to this little guy who was being turned out by the human owner of a shed he was trespassing. There is a lot of high-pitched whining to express his protest, and at the 00:26 mark, you hear the teeth chatter warning the rightful owner of the shed to back off. 

If you want to hear a more extreme example of vocalizations expressing displeasure, take a look at this video of a porcupine who looks like it is getting some medical attention. You hear almost growling, bark-like sounds from an angry porcupine. (And yes that’s a real dog barking in the background).

You also see it in their bodies when porcupines are not relaxed or they anticipate danger. They raise their quills and lash their tails. They also give off a strong odor as a warning to a would-be attacker.

What Happens During Breeding Season?

This is one of the regular annual “social activities” of the porcupine. Males will cross home ranges and gather near a female who is in heat or ready to mate.

It is not a friendly gathering but an intense competition for the most dominant male to get a chance to reproduce.

How Do Porcupines Communicate During Breeding Season?

From September to November, the female porcupine announces her readiness to breed with high-pitched vocalizations, vaginal secretions, and urine marking

Male porcupines will battle each other to prove dominance, there will be loud vocalizations, biting, and using their quills against each other.

The victorious male still has to win the approval of the female, and this involves keeping her from other males, a little dancing, and a spray of urine. If the female accepts, she will position herself and her tail to indicate receptiveness to mating. 

In this video, we see what looks like males gathering around a tree where a sexually receptive female is located. At the 01:22 mark, you see on the left side another porcupine passing very close by, probably joining the courtship ritual.

How Long Does The Mating Pair Stay Together?

The whole process of male suitors coming to court, fighting, and the dominant male finally winning the female over can take several days. But after copulation, the male leaves and goes back to his home range. 

North American porcupines do not mate for life and the male porcupine does not take any part in raising the offspring. The male and female each go back to their solitary ways. 

Do Porcupines Socialize In Winter?

The winter season is a tough time for the quilled rodent as food is scarce, travel is difficult and temperatures or the weather can be harsh.

Porcupines have adapted by doing some ‘resource-sharing’ and that is why wintertime becomes one of the few ‘social occasions’ for this species

Will Porcupines Sometimes Share Their Den?

Yes, this happens! 

This is commonly observed in winter when 8 to 12 porcupines can be seen sharing the same shelter. Sometimes previously mated pairs share a space but this behavior is not limited to mated pairs.

It seems not to be a very friendly arrangement though, and the original occupant usually resists a newcomer holing up in his den. It becomes rather stressful to the solitary porcupine and so the sharing arrangement doesn’t usually last long. 

Here is a video of a few porcupines squabbling over a rocky den in mid-November. 

Will Porcupines Share Food?

Porcupines may be found feeding close to each other but not exactly sharing food.

Much like den-sharing, this is a gathering they merely tolerate given the limited resources in winter. They ignore each other and do not really interact, just do the same activity in the same space.

Almost a hundred porcupines have been seen together around rock piles (probably licking up the salts). Some say porcupines forage together in winter, but what is probably happening is that because they limit their movement and vegetation is sparse, the porcupines end up eating from trees that are relatively close together.

For creatures that, in warmer seasons, remain isolated within a 6-acre home range, finding a couple feeding some hundred yards apart looks like a party.

Do Porcupines Play Together?

Baby porcupines are known to be quite playful and likely play wrestling and climbing with their mother as they quickly develop and mature. This should help their muscles and coordination grow stronger. 

Apparently, even the normally quiet and low-key adult porcupines are known to play. Courtship dances actually look a bit like play. And when a group of porcupines (a prickle) is holed up together during winter, an adult porcupine maybe occasionally finds an individual who doesn’t irritate them and they can actually have fun with. 

Here is a clip of a couple of captive North American porcupines in captivity, an adult and a baby playing together. There is a lot of wrestling and climbing and they manage to keep their quills flat against their skin to avoid hurting each other.

Do Porcupines Get Along With Other Wildlife?

The porcupine interacting or even tolerating other species is probably a stretch. Finding social interactions with their own kind is hard enough as it is. 

Furthermore, their prickly coverings probably stand in the way of any interspecies friendships. Their normally wary demeanor is a necessary tool for survival in the wild 

Porcupines’ Social Behavior in Captivity

After all that talk about how the porcupine is so comfortable living that solitary life in the wild, It is such a surprise to see how social they can be when hand-raised by humans or cared for in captivity. 

There are so many videos of full-grown North American porcupines playing with humans, and adult porcupines also cohabiting in one den or playing with babies. 

Minnie and Vinnie, plus their baby Lloyd in this 2018 video are looking very social together in their enclosure. (Well, at least Vinnie and Lloyd were, apparently, Minnie was still adjusting to motherhood.) This is very different from their behavior in the natural world!

Apparently when in a secure environment where food and shelter are provided, the porcupine can learn to be social and behave almost like a domesticated pet.

Author: Eleanor Tan

Eleanor grew up with rottweilers and pit bulls and loved the James Herriot books about animals as a kid. She thinks animals are endlessly fascinating, and that we can learn a lot from them, all creatures, great and small.

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