Field Notes: Porcupines in the Sky Islands? A More Likely Sighting than You Think

Photo captions: A North American porcupine hanging out on a log on a Border Wildlife Study camera.

​In September 2021, one of our Border Wildlife Study cameras detected this adorable porcupine as it crossed a log. Based on the timestamps, it hung out there for two hours!​​​

The North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is a temperate species found in the forested regions across North America—and the Sky Island region marks the very southern edge of their range.​​

A porcupine, affectionately named Cotton, seen by staff while out conducting field work in the San Rafael Valley.

While very uncommon, the North American porcupine makes its home in the deserts, grasslands, and mountains of the Sky Island region. Before the Border Wildlife Study, we had never detected a porcupine on camera and had only ever heard rumor of them in the mountains.

But to our surprise, they have been popping up on camera with some frequency in the San Rafael Valley of Arizona. While they are typically associated with forests, porcupines can thrive in grasslands, and the porcupines within our study site appear to be doing well in the open grasslands and riparian cottonwood corridors of the valley.

Earlier this summer, we even saw a couple ourselves! Sleeping the day away high in a cottonwood tree. We’ve been searching the tops of cottonwoods ever since.

[Notes from the Field—The Great Porcupine Search]

We are discovering and observing countless things on our Border Wildlife Study cameras. To be able to document these elusive rodents has been a treat, and with these photos we can learn more about their habitat use in the desert southwest.


Video caption: Porcupines are nocturnal and active at night.
With a built-in defensive of protection quills like these, this one is in no hurry.