I was perusing Vernon Bailey’s Mammals of North Dakota from 1926 recently. He recognized two species of porcupines in the state. He went on to note that the yellow-haired, or Rocky Mountain porcupine was mainly found west of the Missouri River and that a specimen collected in 1914 in the Turtle Mountains was the easternmost documentation of the species. The black-haired or Canada porcupine was an eastern species with a couple records in the eastern part of the state along the Red River and in Pembina County.
I checked Robert Seabloom’s Mammals of North Dakota (2011) for a clarification. As you might expect, porcupines may be found in wooded and brushy area of the state. But documentation is lacking in places. The two species recognized by Bailey are now recognized as two subspecies. The range of the “yellow-haired” subspecies is rather common in the southwest part of the state, documented in McKenzie, Dunn, Stark, Slope, Bowman, Golden Valley, and Grant counties.
The “black-haired” subspecies can be found in eastern North Dakota, Manitoba, and Minnesota. It has been recorded from Pembina, Walsh, Ramsey, and Richland counties and has also been observed along the Missouri River in the Bismarck and Riverdale areas.
As you might expect, the yellow-haired subspecies characteristically has yellowish guard hairs while the “black-haired” subspecies has white-tipped guard hairs. Also, the yellow-haired subspecies is a bit larger averaging around 24 pounds versus15 pounds for the black-haired subspecies.
The porcupine is a good example of the continued need for documentation on the range of our flora and fauna. For example, they are common in the Turtle Mountains, but apparently haven’t been documented, as Bottineau and Rolette Counties are not mentioned for either subspecies.
We need better documentation to help determine what is happening to populations of our plants and animals. So, as you travel the state, be on the lookout for porcupines. You may see notice some differences through your travels, but they are all the same species.