Porcupines: The Animal Answer Guide

Porcupines: The Animal Answer Guide

by Uldis Roze


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Could a porcupine make a good pet? Do they ever stick themselves or other porcupines with their quills? In this latest addition to the Animal Answer Guide series, we learn about these mysterious animals' "pincushion defense," along with the following facts:

• Porcupines survive on a diet of leaves, bark, and fruit
• Quills are actually modified hairs
• There are 26 species of porcupines (and counting)
• Old World and New World porcupines have a common ancestor but evolved independently
• New World males will gather to fight ferociously over a single female

Porcupines: The Animal Answer Guide presents solid, current science in the field of porcupine biology. Uldis Roze compares and contrasts porcupines in terms of body plan, behavior, ecology, reproduction, and evolutionary relationships. He examines the diversity of porcupines from around the world—from North and South America to Africa and Asia.

This guide explores the interactions between humans and porcupines, including hunting, use of quills by aboriginal societies, efforts to poison porcupines, and human and pet injuries (and deaths) caused by porcupines. Roze also highlights the conservation issues that surround some porcupine species, such as the thin-spine porcupine of Brazil, which is so rare that it was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in the 1980s.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421407364
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 12/01/2012
Series: The Animal Answer Guides: Q&A for the Curious Naturalist
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.80(h) x 2.30(d)

About the Author

Uldis Roze is professor emeritus at Queens College in New York City. He is a contributor to Natural History magazine and is the author of The North American Porcupine.

Read an Excerpt

In this book I have often felt like a speaker responding to questions from an erudite audience. Good questions can lead to insights that neither party anticipated—one definition of the scientific process. The questions can seem simple: What is a porcupine? What do porcupines eat? How do they survive the winter? Or the questions may have layers of complexity: What are the porcupines’ closest relatives? How do scientists tell porcupine species apart? How will global warming affect the porcupines? But one of the most important questions in this series is the last one: What don’t we know about porcupines?

The amount we don’t know about porcupines is staggering. This is partly because of the nocturnal, tropical-forest lifestyle of most porcupines of the world, but also because of the paucity of molecular biology studies of these animals and because their lifestyles have few parallels with other animal groups. These mysteries make porcupines a lure to scientists and nature lovers alike.

—from the Introduction

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xiii

1 Introducing Porcupines 1

What is a porcupine? 1

How many kinds of porcupines are there? 3

Who's who among the Old World porcupines? 5

Who's who among the New World porcupines? 9

Why are porcupines important? 17

Why should people care about porcupines? 18

What is the current classification of porcupines? 18

What characterizes the major groups of porcupines? 19

When did porcupines evolve? 20

Why is the North American porcupine successful? 21

2 Form and Function of Porcupines 24

What are the largest and smallest living porcupines? 24

Can porcupines see color? 24

Can porcupines swim? 26

Can porcupines burrow? 27

What senses are best developed in porcupines? 28

How do porcupines use their tails? 31

How many quills does a porcupine have? 34

Do quills provide good winter insulation? 35

Does a porcupine throw its quills? 38

What happens when a quill strikes a predator? 38

How does a porcupine minimize self-quilling? 39

How long does it take to replace a lost quill? 40

How did porcupine quills evolve? 41

Why are a porcupine's front teeth orange? 44

Do porcupines have scent glands? 46

How long does it take for a porcupine to digest a meal? 49

Do porcupines suffer from old-age diseases? 49

3 Porcupine Colors 51

What color are porcupine quills? 51

Is there a reason for coat color patterns in porcupines? 52

Do porcupine colors change with age? 54

How does fur color indicate that a female porcupine is lactating? 55

Are albino porcupines found in nature? 57

Why do porcupines glow under a black light? 59

4 Porcupine Behavior 60

Are porcupines social? 60

Do porcupines fight? 62

Do porcupines bite? 63

Do porcupines play? 64

How smart are porcupines? 65

How do porcupines communicate? 65

Do porcupines hibernate? 69

How fast can porcupines run? 69

How do porcupines climb trees? 70

Do porcupines fall out of trees? 72

How can I tell whether a tree is being used as food source by a porcupine? 73

5 Porcupine Ecology 76

Which geographic regions have the most porcupine species? 76

Do porcupines migrate? 76

Can several porcupine species live together in the same area? 77

Are there porcupines in the desert? 78

How do porcupines survive the winter? 79

Do porcupines get sick? 81

How can you tell if a porcupine is sick? 85

Are porcupines good for the environment? 85

What are the important porcupine predators? 87

What possible mutualists live with porcupines? 90

Do porcupines compete for food with other vertebrate herbivores? 93

Do porcupines undergo population cycles? 95

6 Reproduction and Development 97

How do porcupines reproduce? 97

Do porcupines always reproduce in the same season? 99

How is a male porcupine extinguished from a female? 100

How long are porcupines pregnant? 100

How is a baby porcupine born? 101

How many babies do porcupines have? 101

What is a baby porcupine called? 102

Do porcupines care for their young? 102

How long do female porcupines nurse their young? 104

How fast do porcupines grow? 105

How can you tell the age of a porcupine? 105

At what age do porcupines start breeding? 107

Do female porcupines go through menopause? 107

How long do porcupines live? 109

How do individual porcupines differ in reproductive success? 110

7 Foods and Feeding 112

What do porcupines eat? 112

How do porcupines find food? 116

Do porcupines scavenge? 117

Do porcupines store food? 118

Why do porcupines eat clay? 119

How often do porcupines drink? 120

8 Porcupines and Humans 123

Do porcupines make good pets? 123

Should people feed porcupines? 124

What should I do if I find an injured porcupine? 125

What should I do if I find a diseased porcupine? 126

How can I see porcupines in the wild? 127

Why are so many porcupines found as roadkills? 130

9 Porcupine Problems (from a human's viewpoint) 131

Are some porcupines pests? 131

Why do porcupines sometimes gnaw the rubber tires of cars? 132

How can I keep porcupines from my cabin in the woods? 133

Can there be too many porcupines in a forest? 134

How can I keep porcupines away from valuable trees? 135

Are porcupines dangerous to people or pets? 136

Do porcupines transmit human diseases? 140

Is it safe to eat porcupines? 140

How can I remove quills from a pet? 142

What should I do if I'm injured by a porcupine? 143

Can porcupines act as invasive species? 143

10 Human Problems (from a porcupine's viewpoint) 145

Are any porcupine species endangered? 145

Will porcupines be affected by global warming? 148

Why do people hunt and eat porcupines? 149

Is there a hunting season for porcupines? 151

What can I do to help porcupines? 152

11 Porcupines in Stories and Literature 154

What roles do porcupines play in religion and mythology? 154

Are there porcupines in fables and folk tales? 156

What role do porcupines play in native cultures? 160

How are porcupines featured in poetry and literature? 162

What king used the porcupine in his royal seal? 167

What place names feature the porcupine? 168

12 "Porcupinology" 171

Who studies porcupines? 171

Which species are best known? 172

Which species are least known? 173

How do scientists tell porcupine species apart? 173

How can a researcher safely mark a porcupine for identification in the wild? 178

What don't we know about porcupines? 179

Appendix A Porcupines of the World 183

Appendix B Worldwide Wildlife Rehabilitation Organizations 185

Bibliography 189

Index 199

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