What Do Porcupines Eat: Generally, by Season, and by Species


If you’re asking the question what do porcupines eat, here we have the complete list of everything a porcupine would eat – the porcupine’s diet. Including what they would likely eat during which season, and what porcupines eat based on their species and variety.

Let’s start with a general summary, and then we’ll get into the details.

Generally, porcupines are herbivores and commonly eat buds, berries, fruits, and vegetables. They also feed on roots, foliage, shoots and have a preference for bark due to its high sodium content. They have been known to feed on carcasses when food is scarce. Their diet varies by species and season.

That’s the quick summary, so now let’s get into a little more detail such as porcupine diet by season, and porcupine diet by species…

Ranger Planet
Ranger Planet

Either read on or watch the video below from the Ranger Planet YouTube Channel.

What do porcupines eat…

In general, porcupines are herbivores and are often considered generalists. Meaning they don’t have a specific variety of diets, but would happily feed on anything as long as it’s related to plants and plant matter. However, like many mammals, they have often been known to be omnivores.

Buds, berries, fruits, and vegetables

They commonly eat buds’ and a variety of fruits, as well as vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, cassava, and a selection of berries.

Depending on where they inhabit, they can sometimes annoy agricultural farmers by raiding crops and feasting on harvests such as melons and pumpkins.

Foliage, roots, shoots, and bark

When it comes to eating plant matter, in some instances, porcupines will feed on roots, foliage, shoots, bark, and roots. they will also eat some grass.

Their teeth are specifically designed to chew and feed on both soft and hard plant material.

Porcupine species around the world are known to have a great appetite for wood. They make good meals from the bark they strip off trees.

They have sharp and large front teeth, perfectly designed to enable them to feed on tough tree bark.

This heavy bark diet has made them unpopular with many people as the damage can kill timber as well as other more ornamental trees.

In times where their regular food is scarce, you may find porcupines eating the meat of decaying animal carcasses.

When porcupines feed on carcasses, they usually drag them to their dens and then feed on them.

In some other instances when food is scarce they will also eat bugs and even dine on lizards and other insects.

So, in general, a porcupine’s diet is not as specific as you might think and they can be flexible depending on their circumstances. Many believe they can be more opportunistic feeders than you might think. Similar to foxes and skunks.

So how often do porcupines eat? Is it a regular diet? Let’s get into that next.

what do porcupines eat

How often do porcupines eat

How often a porcupine eats depends almost solely on the availability of food.

When food is abundant they will eat as often as they can. They spend a significant portion of their day eating and resting.

During winter they will naturally reduce their metabolism and make full use of their fat reserves.

It’s believed that an Alaskan porcupine will lose about 30 percent of its fat reserves by the end of the winter season.

They tend to display nocturnal behaviors, meaning they are more active at night. It’s during the night they will mainly come out of their burrows to forage for food.

Porcupine diet varies through the seasons, let’s explore that next.

What do porcupines eat – Their diet through the seasons

As with any animal, a porcupine’s diet also varies depending on the season, although they try to remain predominantly as plant-eaters throughout the year.

Spring and Summer

In spring and summer, porcupines will consume a variety of fruits such as a selection of berries, as well as vegetables, herbs, nuts, acorns, and beechnuts.

Fall and Winter

In fall and winter when fruits, vegetables, and foliage have died back, they turn largely to tree remains for food. This mainly includes cambium, barks, and even pine needles.

They are specifically very fond of white pine needles. It’s in winter they will also feed on unusual things like bugs, insects, or animal carcasses.

In winter more than summer, it’s very easy to spot traces of porcupine presence in the area or notice what a porcupine is eating.

If at a low level, you see a tree trunk entirely uncovered …or the bark of a tree completely ripped off, then it’s quite likely that a porcupine had a meal right there.

You should also be able to see some unique stripping claw marks all around the tree near the base. This is very specific to porcupine feeding activity.

porcupine eating a carrot
porcupine eating a carrot

A diet rich in sodium

One particular thing about a porcupine’s diet, it’s that it needs to be very rich in sodium.

Their sodium-packed eating habits give them have a strong desire to find and eat salty food.

You might find them venturing into local ponds and shallow waters during the summer months to feed on food varieties that are high in sodium.

This includes most types of aquatic plants like water lilies.

Their sodium craving has even made them consumers of a variety of manmade and unexpected food materials which is actually surprising.

What do porcupine eat – Unusual diet

One unusual aspect is that porcupines will gnaw on the wood of outside water closets in camping grounds.

They do this mainly because the urine-soaked wood is appetizing to them as it fulfills the sodium intake they require.

Apart from this, they also feed on tool handles, wooden gun parts, canoe paddles, tires, brake lines, leather horse saddles, and even antlers shed by deer species.

They choose these because the salt emitted by these objects quenches their sodium craving. Some campers and hikers have also experienced porcupines licking the salty sweat off their bodies while sleeping.

Porcupine diet by species

Here we’ll move on to how the porcupine diet varies based on each species.

African Brush-Tailed Porcupines

These are mostly herbivores who feed on tree bark, fruit bulbs, and leaves. Sometimes they will feed on carcasses as well.

Asiatic Brush-tailed Porcupines 

This type of porcupine mostly feeds on fruits, grubs, bamboo shoots, yarns, taros, insects, and vegetation. They are also seen scavenging on animal bones and horns.

Sumatran Porcupines 

These are also herbivores and their diet mostly consists of fallen fruits like mangoes, sugarcane, melons, beans, and peanuts. They will also dig underground to feed on plants like sweet potatoes.

Cape Porcupines 

This type of porcupine has a strong preference for barks, fruits, bulbs, crops, and roots. They may also eat carrion.

African Crested Porcupines

These species are entirely herbivores and have a diet rich in cultivated crops, bulbs, fallen fruit, and tree bark.

Thick-Spined Porcupines

These species are primarily herbivores who are known to feed mostly on vegetation and fallen fruits. In rare instances when food is scarce they will search for and eat insects too.

North American Porcupines

This species inhabits a diet rich in leaves, clover, skunk, cabbage fruits, buds, leaves, and twigs.

Brazilian Porcupines 

These porcupines are omnivores who have a diet consisting of fruits, barks, leaves, shoots, and other small animals and insects.

Mexican Dwarf Hairy Porcupines 

Their diet is very rich in leaves, specifically those from genera Brosimum, Ficus, and Inga. They also eat buds, sweet potatoes, fruits, seeds, and carrots. 

Stump-Tailed Porcupine 

These species are often seen feeding on the infructescence of the Trumpet tree.

Bristle-Spined Porcupine

These porcupines prefer to feed on leaves. They also consume different kinds of fruits and nuts. They opt to live in areas that are abundant with cocoa trees. This gives them easy access to cocoa nuts.

That’s what do porcupines eat – Here’s more wildlife help

I hope this has answered the question “What do porcupines eat”. Be sure to check out other interesting articles and facts from ranger planet. Like have you ever wondered if Hedgehogs have fleas?

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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