Porcupines: How do they mate?!


Ever wondered how porcupines actually do it? My first reaction to that thought was “Ouch”! It sure seems like it is going to be a painful affair. Either that, or they would have to be very very careful. After all, the porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is a slow-moving rodent equipped with nearly 30,000 sharp spines, or quills, that defend them from predators. However, the truth is far more peculiar than perilous.

First of all, female porcupines are only sexually driven about 8 to 12 hours in a year! As if that is not bad enough for the male porcupines, the female porcupines are also very picky. Hence, in order to emerge as the victor in this game of courtship, the male becomes very aggressive with the other males, guarding his chosen mate in a Herculean fashion.

In the meanwhile, a bizarre courtship takes place. The male sniffs every place his chosen female urinates, and smells her all over. Odd, but this act is a tremendous aphrodisiac for male porcupines. In addition, he often “sings”, and when he is ready for mating, he rears up on his hind legs. If she is in the mood as well, they both rear up and face each other, belly-to-belly. In this position, male porcupines shower their ladies with a massive stream of urine, soaking her from head to toe. The stream shoots as far as 6 feet! If the female is not too impressed, she shakes off the urine and runs away. But if she is still in the heat, she rears up and exposes her quill-less underbelly, allowing the male to mount her from her behind (that’s the only safe position for porcupines).

The reason behind the urine shower has still not been established. Probably we can infer this from traditional scent marking behaviors, which point to territorial claims and communication aids. Or maybe it is just an attempt by the males to ascertain the willingness of their chosen other, since copulating by force does not seem like a viable choice for porcupines!

So, the endearing lesson learnt? Never stand near courting porcupines!


“30 Strangest Animal Mating Habits,” by Alex. Neatorama.com, 30 Apr 2007. URL: http://www.neatorama.com/2007/04/30/30-strangest-animal-mating-habits/ (accessed on 6 Apr 2010)

“Copulation in the Porcupine,” by Albert R. Shadle. Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 10, no. 2, 1946, pp. 159-62. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3796077 (accessed on 6 Apr 2010)

“How Does a Female Porcupine Select a Mate? Carefully, Very Carefully,” by Tom Dworetzky. National Wildlife Federation, 1 Jun 1998. URL: http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Animals/Archives/1998/Porcupine-Mating-Habits.aspx (accessed on 6 Apr 2010)

“The Sex Reactions of Porcupines (Erethizon d. dorsatum) before and after Copulation,” by Albert R. Shadle, Marilyn Smelzer and Margery Metz. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 27, No. 2 (May, 1946), pp. 116-121. URL: http://www.jstor.org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/stable/1375229?seq=6 (accessed on 6 Apr 2010)

“Porcupine,” by Shoothead. Flickr, 10 Aug 2006. URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leecullivan/211684070/ (accessed on 6 Apr 2010).

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