The porcupine ranks as one of the strangest-looking animals on Earth. These large, terrestrial rodents sport thousands of sharp spines known as quills that help protect them from predators. Their defensive prowess enables porcupines to live mostly solitary lives, unlike many other herbivores, which must live in groups to increase their odds of survival. Although they spend much of their lives alone, porcupines occasionally gather in groups. If you’ve ever seen a group of porcupines, you’ve likely wondered, “What is a group of porcupines called?”
Research shows that porcupines are extremely intelligent. They possess incredible memories and can solve complex puzzles and mazes. Porcupines also utilize a wide range of sounds to communicate with one another. Given their advanced intelligence and communication skills, porcupines seem like they should possess equally evolved social skills. However, the truth is rather more complicated.
Again, what is a group of porcupines called? Do porcupine groups exhibit a loose or strict social structure? How many porcupines can you typically find living together? In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and more.
What are Porcupines?
The term porcupine can refer to one of over 30 different rodent species. Currently, scientists categorize porcupines into one of two families: Erethizontidae and Hystricidae, also known as the New World and Old World porcupines, respectively. New World porcupines (family Erethizontidae) and Old World porcupines (family Hystricidae) share a few characteristics. Namely, both families possess coats made of semi-rigid and rigid quills. However, despite their similar appearance, the two groups are not closely related.
Old World porcupines have imperfect collar bones and rooted cheek teeth, a cleft upper lip, smooth soles, and quills embedded in clusters. They live almost exclusively on the ground and are strictly nocturnal.
Meanwhile, New World porcupines have complete collar bones, rooted molars, fully formed upper lips, tuberculated soles, and quills mixed with hair, bristles, and underfur. Although some New World porcupines den on the ground, others spend most of their lives in trees. While they are mostly nocturnal, some species are active during the day.
A Prickle of Porcupines
A group of porcupines is commonly known as a prickle.
Given their defensive capabilities, porcupines do not need to live in groups for safety. As a result, most porcupine species did not evolve strong social ties. When porcupines do gather in groups, they usually do so for one of two reasons: breeding or survival.
The first reason why porcupines gather in groups is to reproduce. Porcupines are predominantly polygamous, meaning that most species don’t form lasting mating pairs. To bear offspring, they must forego their solitary ways and seek out reproductive partners. When this happens, porcupines may gather in small groups, which typically consist of several competing males and one female. The gathered males will fight for the female’s attention in the hopes of winning the opportunity to mate with her. After mating, the males and females usually go their separate ways. The female takes on most or all of the responsibilities of parenthood and will raise her offspring for several months or several years, depending on the species.
Survival is the second reason why porcupines gather in groups. Unlike some rodents, porcupines do not hibernate in the winter. To survive cold and harsh winters, porcupines will sometimes den together in groups. They do so not out of desire, but out of necessity. Since porcupines do not hibernate, they will periodically leave the den to forage for food. On these occasions, you can find several unrelated porcupines feeding near one another, a behavior that is rare to non-existent outside of bonded porcupine pairs or porcupine parents with their offspring.
Do Porcupines Live in Family Groups?
Most porcupine species do not live in family groups outside of the mating season. However, one species serves as the exception to this rule.
The cape porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis) ranks as the largest rodent in Africa and the world’s largest porcupine. Unlike most other porcupine species, cape porcupines are monogamous and usually live in mated pairs. While they usually forage as individuals, female and male cape porcupines defend their territory together. They mate year-round, although they typically only give birth to one litter per year. Young cape porcupines typically reach sexual maturity at around 1 or 2 years old. However, they remain with their parents until they find a mate of their own.
How Many Porcupines Live in a Prickle?
The size of a porcupine prickle varies depending on the species, location, and time of year.
Female porcupines give birth to between 1 and 4 offspring, known as porcupettes. When her offspring are young, you can often find a mother porcupine foraging or denning with her children. In these circumstances, most porcupine prickles contain anywhere from 2 to 6 members (either two adults, 1 adult with offspring, or two adults with their shared offspring). In the case of cape porcupines, successive litters may share the den with their parents at one time. When this occurs, the prickle could contain around 8 or more related porcupines.
Outside of family groups, porcupine prickles gather only when they must, such as during harsh winters. The North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is the sole porcupine species found in North America. These porcupines tend to live on their own for most of the year except during the breeding season. However, they may also den in groups during the winter. When this occurs, you can find anywhere from 8 to 12 porcupines denning together to stay warm.
Where Do Porcupines Live?
The range of porcupines differs depending on the species. Old World Porcupines are widely distributed throughout southern Europe and Asia as well as most of Africa. Meanwhile, most New World porcupines live in Central or South America, with the exception of the North American porcupine.
You can find porcupines in a wide variety of environments. While Old World porcupines are primarily terrestrial, you can find New World porcupines both on the ground and in trees. Porcupines typically build their dens in hollowed-out trees, logs, or stumps, as well as caves, rocky enclosures, or under tree roots or large rocks.
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