Favoring mixed woodlands, the North American porcupine is found from Alaska to New England, southward through the Appalachians (to Tennessee and Virginia), across the Upper Midwest and throughout the Western U.S., from Canada to Mexico; prone to wander, these large rodents may also be encountered along wooded valleys of the Great Plains. Solitary for much of the year, porcupines mate in early autumn and a single kit is born in mid spring; though it will nurse for several months, the newborn is able to forage soon after birth and remains with its mother through the summer.
Sporting a dense undercoat with thick guard hairs, the porcupine is best known for the hollow, barbed quills that cover most of its body, an effective defense against many predators; those carnivores that feed on porcupines, including coyotes, fishers and bobcats, learn to attack their face or abdomen, the only areas devoid of quills. A nocturnal life style and the habit of resting in trees during the day also offer some degree of protection for these slow moving rodents, which are active year-round and may live for ten years or more.
Porcupines are herbivores and consume a wide variety of plant material, including twigs, buds, berries, nuts and tender vegetation; during the winter, they also feast on conifer needles and bark. Known to crave salt, these "quill-pigs" often wander into towns to nibble on axe handles, oars, plywood and other sweat-tainted items; this craving also tempts them onto highways where, unfortunately, they soon join the motley assortment of roadkill.