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Shy, solitary porcupines are among the largest rodents in North America, second only to beavers. As nocturnal herbivores, they have poor eyesight and rely strongly on their heightened senses of smell and hearing to locate food and avoid danger. While not typically dangerous to humans, they can be nuisances due to their feeding habits.
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Porcupines are easily recognized by the yellow or white quills that stand out against their brown or black fur. These slow-moving animals have stout, compact bodies with small heads, black eyes, and short ears. About the size of a large house cat, they average around 15 pounds and grow to about 2 to 3 feet in length with a 6 to 11 inch long tail. This specially adapted tail is extremely muscular, which helps porcupines balance in trees. Likewise, the soles of their feet are rough to make climbing easier.
The diet of porcupines varies seasonally and by region. In the summer, they feast on buds, flowers, leaves and small twigs. Instead of hibernating during winter when these food sources are not available, porcupines simply adapt, eating bark and pine needles. Feeding rates also change according to the weather, with the pests eating more during the fall to store energy for colder months.
Porcupines primarily live in coniferous forests and wooded areas along streams. Dispersed through the western and northern portions of the U.S., they have a home range of approximately 25 to 35 acres. Porcupines typically live in hollow logs or groundcover, though they may also use trees if no other shelter is available. Since they do not sleep in the same trees they feed on, mixed forests are their preferred habitats.