Porcupines tend to be slow and lumbering creatures found meandering in wooded areas, munching on vegetation.
However, if you look up, you may also see a porcupine above you.
Porcupines can climb trees adeptly with their powerful claws and strong bodies. They climb up high trees in search of new growth and vegetation, eating bark, leaves, buds, fruit, and more. Porcupines also climb trees to roost, stay safe from predators, and may even build a nest for their porcupettes.
Porcupines can cause extensive damage to trees which creates problems for logging companies but can benefit the forest ecosystem.
Read on to learn more about these fascinating creatures.
Can Porcupines Climb?
A porcupine lumbers slowly across the terrain, yet surprisingly it is also a good climber.
All species of the New World (Erethizontidae) porcupine family can climb trees. The North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is both terrestrial and arboreal, often seen in deciduous trees and mixed forests of Northern America.
Other New World porcupines live in trees in tropical forests from Mexico down to South America.
Old World (Hystricidae) porcupines are primarily terrestrial, found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. However, the Trichys fasciculata, found in Southeast Asia, can climb trees.
Climbing porcupines have strong legs with long, curved claws and muscular and balanced bodies. Except for the North American porcupine, porcupines have prehensile tails with stiff bristles that can curl and grip.
Some species of porcupines cannot jump, so they will climb down a tree and up another to cross any gaps.
Why Do Porcupines Climb? (4 Reasons)
Porcupines climb for factors that contribute to their survival for resting, safety, food, and building nests.
1. Roosting Spot
Porcupines will roost, or settle, in crotches of trees as well as hollow logs, caves, rock crevices, or snowbanks.
Generally, this resting is seen during the day, as they are more active at night.
Even though porcupines will climb slowly, climbing trees can further protect a porcupine from predators.
Porcupines do not generally initiate attacks and tend to respond with chattering and a chemical odor to warn predators first.
This video demonstrates the noises they may make.
To protect itself, the porcupine will turn around and face its rear toward the predator. It cannot shoot its quills. However, it can hit with its tail, and the quills detach easily if touched, leaving a barbed spike in the attacker.
They are not a physical threat to humans, as long as you do not touch them. Porcupines are defensive creatures and not aggressive.
Porcupines’ predators include fishers, lynx, great-horned owls, mountain lions, wolves, bobcats, and wolverines.
Despite the sharp and painful quills, a predator will try to attack the porcupine to try to flip it over to access its soft and quill-less undersides.
Fishers, in particular, are very adept at attacking porcupines with their nimble tree-climbing abilities. They will fearlessly attempt to knock the porcupine down from a tree and nimbly avoid the quills as it attacks the underside of the fallen porcupine.
Fishers were extirpated in southern New England in the 19th century due to heavy logging practices.
As a result, the porcupine population grew massively, and logging companies found that they were destroying the seedlings and trees, and their business.
So, in the 1950s, fishers were reintroduced into the area to control the porcupine population.
3. Food Sources
Porcupines are herbivores and like to eat buds, roots, twigs, leaves, stems, berries, nuts, and more in the spring and summer.
In the winter, evergreen needles and layers of bark provide nutrition.
Porcupines will also gnaw on bones and antlers for sources of calcium and minerals.
Climbing trees gives porcupines access to lots of fresh food sources. They will climb to reach the high and outermost branch tips for new buds, risking a fall for a tasty treat.
Climbing porcupines create nests or a den in tall grass, hollow logs or trees, abandoned burrows, or underneath a shelter for their babies, called porcupettes.
Though, not as common a porcupine will build nests up in a tree as well.
Porcupines have two front molars that continue to grow. Gnawing on rough vegetation, such as tree bark, helps the porcupine to file down these teeth. If they do not, they will eventually be unable to eat anything.
Porcupines love to eat trees so much that they cause extensive damage to them, leaving wide-tooth marks.
They desire the young bark and leaves, as well as terminal, new buds. They also like to eat the inner phloem part of the tree bark, removing the outer layers, and stripping the bark off.
In small amounts, a tree can heal from this, but with extensive damage, the tree will die.
If a porcupine removes bark around the circumference of a trunk or branch, called girdling, the tree is exposed to disease, insects, and birds, and the part beyond that chewed rim will die off.
In the winter, porcupines do not hibernate, and when new growth is not available, porcupines focus their attention on the bark of trees.
Porcupines tend to choose only one or two species of trees based on their personal preferences, often eating about 0.9 pounds of food per day.
Benefits Of Tree Damage
Even though porcupines cause damage to trees, this can benefit the ecosystem.
Trees that die off, open up the canopy, allowing for sunlight to enter the forest floor.
This stimulates the growth of understory vegetation and provides log or stump shelters or nesting opportunities for other wildlife.
The next time you are out for a walk in nature, you might just see a porcupine. But, don’t forget to look up too.
Porcupines can be found in trees roosting, eating, protecting themselves, or building a nest.
These steady creatures depend on the trees for their survival, chewing on new growth and bark year-round.
Even if they kill a tree by eating extensive bark, it benefits the ecosystem, allowing new growth and wildlife to settle in.