New World porcupines spend most of their lives climbing in trees. Old World porcupines are larger and mostly ground-dwelling – but can still climb if needed. So Yes, Porcupines can climb trees.
Why Do Porcupines Climb Trees?
In general, porcupines climb trees because they have evolved to eat trees. It is their thing to hang out up in the branches. They have evolved special pads on their feet for grip – and prehensile tails to wrap around branches. Pretty smart.
Specializing in eating bark, twigs, fruits, nuts, leaves, and conifer needles – they need to be pretty agile up in the trees, and along with their South and Central American cousins they mainly live up there the whole time.
They have found a successful niche in the canopy as it gives them a certain amount of peace and quiet from some of the worst predators down on the ground (like wolves, foxes, and coyotes).
They do almost everything in the trees too. Sleeping in tree hollows, feeding, rearing their young, and even completing their courtship in a tree (they actually mate and give birth on the ground though).
Do Porcupines Make Nests In Trees?
The North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) makes two kinds of nests – or dens.
One is in the trees in a hollow somewhere. It isn’t always filled with soft bedding as some other rodents do – and it is sometimes nothing but bare bark or rock. Usually, a good secure den is one where they store hoarded food instead.
Other dens might just be under a fallen tree, in a cave, or in a rocky crevice – so they are quite exposed – but sleeping ‘spines out’ they often aren’t in too much danger.
Their second den is only for the females. When birthing, they create a soft den area in the long grass to protect their young. This cushioned area protects their single pup from the elements – but not from predators – the pup does that themselves with the stink of a special odor. This smell is described as ‘putrid’ and usually deters most land-based large animals from investigating.
Once the young porcupine has learned to climb – they move up into the trees.
Can Porcupines Shoot Their Quills From Trees?
Contrary to popular belief though – a porcupine can’t ‘throw’ their spines. They don’t have any specific muscles or systems in place to literally spit out their spines. The spines in fact, are hooked at the tip, so only if they make contact with the thing they are being threatened by (say a dog’s face or a human leg) will the spines come loose. It is similar to Velcro or those grass seeds that get hooked on your socks – you have to touch them.
A porcupine’s quills cover most of their body and they can have up to 30,000 quills at any one time. Some porcupines are completely covered in quills – others only have them from the shoulders back. All primed, sharp, and detachable.
Once grown to full size, the quills are no longer connected to the blood supply, so a mature quill falling out won’t hurt the porcupine or bleed. This is handy because often the porcupine can lose a few dozen quills at a time (into the face of an unsuspecting enemy).
Therefore, if you scare a porcupine that is up a tree – it can’t shoot its spines down in your direction in defense.
Do Porcupines Regrow Their Quills?
Luckily for porcupines – they will regrow their quills – otherwise, they would be unprotected for the rest of their lives (not such a good defensive strategy).
Porcupines are such a successful group of animals though – with over 30 different species – and this is due to their spines and how simple they are to grow.
What are Porcupine Quills made of?
Basically, they are just hairs. They evolved from a special type of hair that, over time, became stiffened and thicker. Becoming known as quills – these hollow, pointed spines are made out of keratin – exactly the same thing as human hair, or cat fur. And just like human hair – they grow back in a constant cycle. So although the porcupines may lose 20 or more quills into the face of a hungry coyote – it won’t take them too long to grow a new set in their place.
Not so lucky for the coyote on both counts…