What Do North American Porcupines Eat? (Needs, Preferences, & More)

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Published on July 15, 2022
Last Updated on October 12, 2023

Amongst the 12 porcupine species, the North American porcupine is the most common in the New World porcupine family. This had led people to wonder about what they eat.

North American porcupines eat vegetation, such as vegetables, roots, bark, grass, fruits, and more. While some have been spotted gnawing on animal bones, they are mostly just using the animal bones to file their ever-growing teeth down.

While North American porcupines love to munch on all sorts of plants, there is a lot more to their diet than what meets the eye. This will naturally lead you to wonder what else North American porcupines eat, so let us dive in!

What Do North American Porcupines Eat?

North American porcupines generally eat a wide variety of vegetation, from berries to roots and various plants. Their diets will change based on the season, but porcupines will constantly have plant materials in their diets.

What Is The Porcupine’s Favorite Food?

A porcupine’s favorite food can depend on the individual porcupine’s tastes. However, the Smithsonian National Zoo found that their porcupines favored corn on the cob.

Plus, some people have noticed that porcupines are particularly attracted to fruit and salt. For example, apples sprinkled with salt are a common food used to lure porcupines.

Moreover, porcupines often prefer softer fruits, vegetables, and greens over tough tree bark – you can’t really blame them! 

Are Porcupines Herbivores, Carnivores, or Omnivores?

Porcupines are herbivores because their diets are solely composed of plant materials. While they stay away from all meat-related food, porcupines have been seen chewing on bones to sharpen their teeth.

Notably, porcupines have also been spotted eating deer antlers since they are a good source of mineral salts and calcium. However, it is also likely that porcupines gnaw on deer antlers to file down their ever-growing front teeth.

As such, chewing on animal bones will not be enough to categorize porcupines as omnivores since they are not actually eating animal flesh.

Will Porcupines Eat Wild Plants?

Porcupines will eat a wide range of wild plants. Vegetation actually comprises their entire diets. Normally, porcupines will eat whatever plant material is available for them to forage.

For instance, porcupines will happily go for vegetable plants like skunk cabbage. They will also consume various root plants and tubers, such as potatoes and carrots.

As such, porcupines will eat nearly any vegetation they come across, such as grass, leaves, clovers, shrubs, and roots.

Do Porcupines Eat Fruit?

Porcupines do eat fruit, and as opportunistic foragers, they will eat almost any type of fruit available to them. For instance, porcupines will eat a variety of berries including strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries whenever they come across them in the wild.

Moreover, porcupines are skilled climbers and can easily get ahold of fruit from fruit-bearing trees. 

Notably, porcupines are avid consumers of apples, pears, and other fruits that grow on trees. They will readily deplete whatever an apple tree bears each year. 

If given the opportunity, porcupines will also eat non-native fruit like pineapples and bananas. However, these exotic fruits will likely not be a part of their regular diets in the wild.

Do Porcupines Like To Eat Vegetables?

Porcupine on a branch eating lettuce that it holds with two hands

As herbivores, porcupines love to eat vegetables, and vegetables comprise a huge part of their diets. Porcupines will eat almost any type of vegetable that they come across while they forage. 

If a porcupine happens to come across a garden or farm, it will eat corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and more. They will also happily consume any vegetables they find in the wild.

Do Porcupines Eat Grass?

Usually, porcupines will eat grass, especially since grass is abundant in most of their natural habitats. While porcupines will likely prefer other types of vegetation, grass will be a common plant in their diets.

Will Porcupines Eat Meat of Any Kind?

Porcupines do not usually eat any kind of meat because they are herbivores. However, there have been a few rare instances where porcupines have chewed on the decaying meat of animal carcasses.

Moreover, porcupines have been documented gnawing at animal bones, but they chew on animal bones to file their teeth rather than eat the bones.

Do Porcupines Eat Insects?

As far as we know, North American porcupines do not eat insects like slugs, worms, ants, or ticks because they are strict herbivores. However, other species of porcupine, such as the Asiatic Bush-Tailed porcupine, will eat insects.

Can Porcupines Eat Fish?

Porcupines could eat fish, but it is highly unlikely that they will try. First of all, porcupines are almost exclusively vegetarians. Secondly, they generally forage on land, so porcupines would rarely get the opportunity to eat fish.

As talented swimmers, porcupines may enter the water and consume aquatic vegetation, but you will not see them eating fish.

Will A Porcupine Eat Chickens?

Porcupines are very unlikely to eat chickens since they are natural herbivores. Moreover, a porcupine will not hunt down a chicken, so it would be rare for it to have an opportunity to consume chicken.

Do Porcupines Eat Pet Food?

Porcupines could eat pet food, but it is very unlikely for them to keep pet food as part of their main diets (unless they could easily get access to it!) Moreover, there is no pet food specifically made for porcupines.

However, porcupines can eat pet food intended for rabbits, hamsters, or other rodents if given the chance. 

There have been some instances where porcupines will eat dry cat food if they find it. However, they are more likely to eat plants if they are given the choice between cat food and vegetation.

It is very unlikely for a porcupine to eat wet dog food or cat food since the wet pet food varieties tend to be meat-based. As such, the porcupine will have no desire to eat wet pet food based on the smell alone.

Will A Porcupine Eat Bird Seeds?

Porcupines can eat bird seeds if they are given the chance. Some bird seeds that porcupines may eat include sunflower seeds, millet, cracked corn, and safflower seeds. 

Do Porcupines Eat Wood or Bark?

North American porcupine sitting on the ground next to branches with gnawn off bark, eating something.

Porcupines do eat wood and bark, and often heavily rely on trees as a primary part of their diets. Not only are trees a great source of food, but the tough wood offers porcupines a chance to file down their teeth.

Typically, porcupines favor the inner bark of trees, so they strip off the outer bark until they reach the softer interior of the tree. If given the chance, porcupines can cause massive damage to the tree and potentially cause the tree to perish.

Oftentimes, porcupines prefer the canopy of trees, which is the upper portion of the tree. They usually climb near the tops of trees to sit on a branch to safely eat thinner tree bark from the branches.

What Trees Do Porcupines Like?

Depending on the vegetation available, most porcupines will go for true firs, Douglas-firs, spruces, pines, cottonwoods, and willows, especially if they are in the interior West of North America.

However, porcupines will not limit themselves to these trees since they will go for what is available, such as fruit-bearing trees and poplars

Will Porcupines Eat Treated Lumber?

North American porcupine eating something that it holds with its two hands

If there are no live trees around, porcupines will eat treated lumber if given the chance. Porcupines are known to destroy wooden structures, even if they were made with treated lumber.

In fact, porcupines may be more attracted to treated lumber because many wood glues, stains, and paints contain salt. Porcupines regularly crave salt, and these cravings can get stronger when it is spring.

Construction lumber is often treated with more dangerous chemicals than salt, however, so if there’s a chance you can avoid having a porcupine chomp on construction lumber, it’s best to do what you can.

What Do Porcupines Eat In The Summer?

Since vegetation tends to be more abundant in the summer, porcupines will eat nearly every plant that they see. For instance, porcupines will eat leaves, grass, fruits, and vegetables during the summer.

However, porcupines will still go for food that is available all year round. Porcupines often continue to eat roots and twigs in the summer months.

What Do Porcupines Eat In The Winter?

Porcupines are highly adaptive herbivores, so they will mostly eat the bark of trees and needles during the winter. Since other forms of vegetation will not grow during the winter, porcupines will turn to evergreen trees, such as fir and spruce, and their needles stay green all year round.

Other than evergreen trees, porcupines also eat the bark of trees like birch, willow, elm, and beech.

Why Do Porcupines Need Salt?

Porcupines do need salt in their diets since their natural diets do not offer a lot of it. Usually, a porcupine will have a diet low in sodium but high in potassium.

Potassium and salt are separate ions, and porcupines require an equal balance of both ions to activate their muscles and nerves. As such, porcupines often have a huge craving for salt to satisfy their body’s needs.

Porcupines will often search for natural mineral licks in the wild, which are natural mineral deposits that contain minerals like salt. They will lick these mineral licks as needed to satisfy their salt cravings.

Normally, you will see porcupines go for these mineral licks during the spring and autumn. It will be easier for the porcupines to find mineral licks during the warmer months.

Some porcupines might also go to extreme lengths to get a taste of salt, such as gnawing on salt-treated construction lumber. This might not be the healthiest source of salt, since this lumber might also be treated with other, more dangerous chemicals.

What Do Porcupines Drink?

Porcupines drink water, but they do not drink a lot of water. According to a study, porcupines only spend 0.39% of their day drinking water.

While porcupines do not drink a lot of water, that does not mean they are dehydrated. Porcupines get a lot of hydration from the vegetation they eat, especially fruits and vegetables. 

For instance, porcupines that eat cucumbers and papayas will not have to drink as much water since these foods are mostly comprised of water.

Do Porcupines Have The Same Diet As Hedgehogs?

While wild hedgehogs eat a variety of foods, porcupines and hedgehogs have vastly different diets. This is because hedgehogs are insectivores that eat plants and insects while porcupines are herbivores.

Moreover, hedgehogs can eat smaller invertebrates, such as snakes or mice, whereas a porcupine is not likely to touch meat.

It’s also important to note, that despite hedgehogs and porcupines both having spikes, they are completely unrelated, and are extremely different animals that do not have much in common. Especially not their diet.

What Do Baby Porcupines Eat?

For the first few months of their lives, baby porcupines will heavily rely on their mothers for milk. Porcupines are mammals, meaning they will get most of their nutrients from milk.

However, baby porcupines start eating vegetation alongside their mother’s milk a few weeks after they are born. As the porcupine ages, they will slowly eat more vegetation until they are fully weaned off milk.

Do Porcupines Drink Milk?

Since porcupines are mammals, they do rely on their mothers for milk while they are babies. Most porcupines will be fully weaned off of milk when they are three months old.

It is also possible for porcupines to drink cow’s milk, but this would only happen in captivity if the porcupine’s mother is not present.

Author: Allison Marie Dinglasan

Hello! I am Allison, an avid writer for 6 years with a deep interest in animals since I was a child. I grew up on Animal Planet and animal books and often did rescue work for stray and sickly cats, dogs, and birds in my area, which led to over 60 rescues. My future goal is to be a veterinarian to have a more hands-on approach to helping and learning about animals!


  • Allison Marie Dinglasan

    Hello! I am Allison, an avid writer for 6 years with a deep interest in animals since I was a child. I grew up on Animal Planet and animal books and often did rescue work for stray and sickly cats, dogs, and birds in my area, which led to over 60 rescues. My future goal is to be a veterinarian to have a more hands-on approach to helping and learning about animals!

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