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A Prickly Pal: Porcupines

There are actually 23 different porcupine species around the world, but in Canada we only have one, the North American porcupine.

Have you ever seen a porcupine? Look up!

Most people might expect to spot a porcupine on the ground, but they spend most of their time in trees. Porcupines are nocturnal (asleep in the day and awake at nice), when they are not on the ground looking for food they sleep up in the trees. In the winter, porcupines do not hibernate. They are tough animals who spend winter in their dens and forage for food nearby.

Porcupines are herbivores which means they only eat plants. During the summer they eat stems, twigs, and roots of many plant species. During the winter they mostly eat pine needles and tree bark close to their den. Porcupines can be picky eaters normally choose to eat from one group of trees.

You can’t miss a porcupine’s major feature: quills! Quills are actually modified hairs. As the porcupine evolved, the hairs became hard, hollow, and barbed quills. An adult porcupine has around 30,000 quills covering its body. Under those quills is a thick soft coat of fur to help keep warm.

There is a myth that porcupines can “shoot” their quills out of their body. This is only a myth! When a porcupine is scared their quills stand up on end, just like when people get goosebumps and the hair on your arms stand up. Standing up on end makes the quills easier to dislodge when something touches them. This an excellent defense tool against predators, however as some dog owners know it can cause problems during chance encounters. If your dog gets quilled it will need to go to the vet to ensure they are all removed. The quills are barbed and thin, so they are hard to remove without breaking off.

Activity: Build a Porcupine

Step 1: Porcupine Body & Quills

Use a toilet paper roll or a paper towel roll and insert straws, twigs, clusters of pine needles, toothpicks or other quill like objects into the roll to make the body of the porcupine.

Make sure to be careful while using scissors and inserting your quills into the porcupine (if you are having a hard time inserting the quills, use a toothpick or have an adult make holes using a sharp object then insert the quill).  If you are having a hard time keeping the quills in place the holes may have been too large, that is okay you can use glue to help keep the quills in place.

Step 2. Porcupine Legs

Our porcupine still needs legs!

Porcupines do not have very long legs. To give them some short, cute legs take either sticks or toothpicks and stick them through the toilet paper roll.

Step 3. Porcupine Head

For the porcupine’s face you can reuse an egg carton, simply cut out one of the egg cups.

You can use markers to draw on your porcupine’s face or if you have googly eyes you can use those too.

Insert the head onto one of the toilet rolls opening and glue or tape it in place.

Don’t forget to give your new porcupine pal a name! What would you call a porcupine?

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