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Porcupine babies are born more developed than the babies of many other types of rodents, mostly because porcupines tend to have one baby at a time instead of litters, and they carry the babies for up to seven months before delivery. But the babies still need their moms, and they sometimes stay with them for up to a year.
When They're Born
Porcupine babies have everything they need when they're born, except the skills to find their own food. Their eyes are open, they can move around on their legs and they have a full coat of quills. The quills are soft at birth so they don't harm the moms, but they harden about an hour after the babies are born. Porcupines that climb trees regularly, such as the prehensile-tailed porcupine, have babies that have enough coordination to climb with their moms the same day they're born.
Time to Nurse
The length of time a baby porcupine nurses varies by species, but most require Mom's milk for between one and three weeks. Some species nurse for more than three months, including the North American porcupine. Regardless of how long the babies nurse, they're able to start incorporating solid food in the first or second week of life to supplement the milk. Many can survive on their own after about 3 weeks of age even if they're separated from their mothers.
Staying for Months
Even after they're weaned, baby porcupines stay with their moms for several months, usually five to 12 months. In some species, the father remains part of the family unit as well. During this time, the babies continue to grow and develop while learning from their moms -- and sometimes dads -- about how to stay safe from predators and forage for food.
Why They Leave
Although some species, such as crested porcupines, can remain in large family groups indefinitely, most separate before mating season draws near. Some porcupines are sexually mature at around 8 months old, while others are closer to 2 years old. Adult male porcupines can become aggressive toward other males during mating season, so the juvenile males often leave to avoid confrontation. The juvenile females usually leave as well as a way to prevent inbreeding.
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