Porcupines are large rodents distinguished by their spiny fur. Comprised of twenty-three species around the world, they are divided into two distinct families: Hystricidae (Old World porcupines) and Erethizontidae (New World porcupines). Old World porcupines are generally larger, with robust bodies, large blunt snouts and quills grouped in clusters. The Old-Worlders are generally land-dwelling, as opposed to the New World porcupines of the Americas that are primarily arboreal (tree-dwelling). New World porcupines generally run smaller in size, have smaller heads in proportion to their bodies and have quills that are not grouped. In New York State we only have one resident species: The North American Porcupine.
The porcupine’s spines, or quills, have been subject to numerous misconceptions, many of which have turned this timid mammal into an aggressive and dangerous beast. The following facts about the porcupine’s sharp spines help to separate some of the myths from reality.
North American Porcupine
Found across the state with higher densities in the Adirondack region.
Look for alternating prints with large 5-toed hind prints and smaller 4-toed foreprints. Prints may overlap. The hind prints are just over 2 inches long on average, while the front prints rarely exceed two inches. A clear print may show a beaded texture to the paw pad. The claws are long. The stride is about 7-8 inches long. Porcupines tend to drag their spines (and tail) on the ground as they walk.
Other signs of porcupines
Bark strippings, twigs, nut casings. Smooth trees with patches of missing bark is a good indication. Porcupines won’t inhabit the trees they feed on, but chances are they are close by.
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