U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

June 2000


Copyright of Physiological & Biochemical Zoology is the property of University of Chicago Press. Permission to use.


North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) subsist predominantly on low-protein, high-fiber, high-tannin diets. Therefore, we measured the porcupine's ability to digest dry matter, fiber, and protein by conducting digestion trials on eight natural forages and one pelleted ration varying in concentration of fiber, nitrogen, and tannins. On these diets, dry matter intake ranged from 5 to 234 g/kg 0.75/d and dry matter digestibility ranged from 62% to 96%. Porcupines digested highly lignified fiber better than many large hindgut fermenters and ruminants. The porcupine's ability to digest fiber may be explained, in part, by their lengthy mean retention time of particles (38.43 ± 0.36 h). True nitrogen digestibility was 92% for nontannin forages and pellets. Endogenous urinary nitrogen was 205 mg N/kg 0.75/d, and metabolic fecal nitrogen was 2.8 g N/ kg dry matter intake. Porcupines achieved nitrogen balance at relatively low levels of nitrogen intake (346 mg N/kg0.75/d). Tannins reduced the porcupines' ability to digest protein. However, the reduction in protein digestion was not predictable from the amount of bovine serum albumin precipitated. Like many herbivores, porcupines may ameliorate the effects of certain tannins in natural forages on protein digestibility through physiological and behavioral adaptations.