The porcupine is best known for its sharp spikes and fierce look, helping it shield itself from predators. It is a large rodent encountered equally in the “Old World” and in North America and northern South America. The “Old World” porcupines live mainly in southern Europe, Asia, and Africa.
What sets porcupines apart from most rodents is their ability to protect themselves with their large spines, also called quills. However, they still have a lot of natural predators who hunt them against all odds. Let’s have a look at the porcupine’s main predators.
As with most wildlife, humans are one of the leading predators for the porcupine. Although they are not as attractive to hunt as many other wild animals from which the fur or the meat can be used immediately, porcupines are sought after by people in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, for eating. In fact, Vietnam is famous for having a massively declining porcupine population as a result.
It is more common to find porcupines’ quills used for decoration in Native American clothing and headdresses.
2. North American Marten
The fisher, or North American marten, is a fierce predator of the American porcupines. They can attack the unprotected face of the porcupine or find ways to flip it over, at which point the porcupine is defenceless. A fisher would attack the porcupine in order to eat it and they are known in the United States as maybe the foremost predator of porcupines, presumably because they like the taste of their meat. Fishers are uniquely adapted to attack porcupines because of their size – they often go for the unprotected face, whilst bigger predators try to attack the full body and struggle with the quills.
The bobcat is part of the lynx family in North America, living predominantly in woodland but also in semi-desert as it is a very adaptable animal. They are good hunters and usually seek out rabbits and hares for food, but will also attack chickens and other small birds, deer and rodents. The same approach as the marten would apply for attacking a porcupine, where the bobcat would look to turn it over and expose its belly to be able to effectively attack it.
Another North American predator of the porcupine is the coyote, another versatile predator who can be found far and wide in the United States, constantly enlarging its territory. Coyotes are smaller than their relative the grey wolf, yet can cause quite a lot of damage to domestic households and will prey on chickens and other birds. They have a very varied diet, allowing them to attack sheep, rabbits, and hares, as well as any rodents. Specifically with porcupines, coyotes have been seen attacking them in pairs – flipping them on their backs and feeding on their bellies. Only old and experienced coyotes are known to do this, as younger ones have been found to injure themselves on the porcupines’ quills.
5. Lions and other large cats
In the Old World such as Africa, the biggest predators for porcupines are the whole gamut of large wild cats, especially lions, who are clever enough to carefully flip the porcupines over and attack them in this way. Surprisingly, however, studies show that porcupines can actually kill lions, if not seriously injure them.
A quill from a porcupine can penetrate very deeply into their aggressor, and in one case a lion has been found with a quill that have been penetrated more than six inches into its snout, nearly reaching its brain. As a result of this injury, the lion had difficulty continuing to hunt and couldn’t remove the quill, therefore resorted to attacking humans, which lions wouldn’t normally do. A researcher posited that the only reason a lion in that situation was attacking a human was its frailty and the porcupine’s quill was the reason for it.
In North America, mountain lions are especially fond of porcupines and attack them frequently for feeding on them. It has been speculated that mountain lions contributed to almost wiping out porcupine populations in places like Nevada (where a 1997 study found that, in three years, the total number of porcupines decreased from 80 to 5, all down to mountain lions’ attacks).
Wolves are extremely social creatures and often hunt in a pack. This has allowed them to attack porcupines successfully, because as a group they are turning them over and getting access to them without the defense of their quills.
As wolves are highly intelligent, it is now wonder they have learnt about the porcupines’ weaknesses and are exploiting them in this way.
Lynxes (from the same family as bobcats) routinely attack European porcupines, flipping them over and successfully preying on them for food.
8. Great horned owls
The great horned owl is a well-known predator of the porcupine, presumably due to a combination of intelligence (so knowing how to attack it in the ways it is vulnerable) and dexterity. Moreover, great horned owls are also the only predators that feed on skunks as a matter of course, which makes the porcupine more exposed as their appearance cannot put off owls (as it would other predators who are not interested in skunks for prey).
Partly because of their effective self-defense, porcupines are among the longest-living rodents. They normally survive many years, with the record in porcupine longevity being 27 years. Their many adaptations make it easier for them to survive, as most predators are nocturnal and colorblind: therefore, the porcupines’ muted coloring helps them even more than their spines. Furthermore, they make a clattering sound that deters predators, and when they raise their spines, they look a lot like a skunk, which can also confuse any other animal looking to hunt a porcupine.
All in all, they are very well-suited for life in the wild and have lived a long time thanks to their adaptations. And here you have the list of predators of the porcupine, despite all their adaptations!
I hope that this article on porcupine predators was helpful! If you are interested, visit the Animal Facts Page!