How prickly porcupines mate without hurting

The porcupine is the prickliest of rodents, though its Latin name means “quill pig”.

The porcupines found in North and South America are good climbers and spend much of their time in trees. A single animal may have 30,000 or more quills. North American porcupines also eat fruit, leaves, and springtime buds.


Porcupines can be broadly divided into the Old World and New World varieties, which are quite different from each other in terms of ecology and social structure.


New World porcupines, including the well-studied North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), live in trees and eat leaves, fruits, and bark. Old World porcupines live on the ground (such as in caves) and feed on fruit, roots, and bulbs. And New World porcupines are generally solitary animals, whereas Old World porcupines live in family groups.


Prickly porcupines mate without hurting each other. Here’s how.


Behind every baby porcupine, there’s a reproduction ritual that involves tree fights, urine squirts, and covering quills during copulation.


The species’ annual mating season is in early fall. In her chosen tree, the female signals she’s about ready to breed by secreting an odoriferous substance. Males drawn by the smell fight each other in the tree branches and on the ground below her. The one not knocked out wins mating rights—but the seduction’s not done.


To induce estrus in the female, the male squirts her with urine, a few drops at a time. The urine is propelled at such high velocity, that even if a male and female are sitting on separate branches in a tree, his urine can reach her. The male keeps it up—repeated salvos over many hours, until the female is in the mood. Typically, the two then descend the tree to breed.


Quills could make mounting the female a prickly proposition. But when she’s ready, the female curves her tail over her spiky back so her tail’s quill-free underside is facing up, The male then can rest his paws on that surface while doing the deed.

Approximately seven months later, the female will give birth—in this species, usually a single offspring. Known as a porcupette, the baby is born with all its quills but also wrapped in the amniotic sac that smooths the little one’s arrival.

 

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