Porcupines are Spreading to New Areas in Pennsylvania

Porcupines, once rarely seen outside their usual habitats in northern and central Pennsylvania, are now venturing into new parts of the state. These shy, slow-moving creatures are steadily expanding their range, surprising many with their appearances in unexpected places.

Expanding Their Territory

Thomas Keller, a furbearer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, has been tracking porcupines’ movements for years. “In the past 13 years, we’ve seen a gradual but steady spread of porcupines into new areas,” Keller said.

Since 2010, the Game Commission has surveyed wildlife across about 120 districts every year. These surveys reveal that porcupines are now making their way into southeastern and western parts of Pennsylvania—regions they previously didn’t inhabit.

New Sightings in Southern Counties

Porcupines have long been residents of the northern and central parts of Pennsylvania. But now, they are being spotted in places like Cumberland, Adams, Franklin, and Dauphin counties. They’ve even made their way into northwestern parts of Berks and Lebanon counties.

Keller explains that the reasons behind this expansion aren’t entirely understood but could be linked to recent mild winters and changes in forest growth patterns that favor porcupines. “Our forests have matured into habitats that porcupines find very attractive,” he noted. “They prefer areas with large coniferous and deciduous trees where they can easily climb and forage.”

Roadkill Reports Indicate Expansion

The Game Commission’s surveys, which include data on roadkill, support the evidence of porcupines moving into new territories. There’s been a noticeable increase in porcupine roadkills in the southeast, south-central, and even some western parts of Pennsylvania.

Keller, who lives in Cumberland County, has observed this trend personally. “Growing up, I never saw porcupines here. But now, they’re appearing more often, especially in the valleys,” he said.

Porcupines’ Ecological Role

Porcupines are the second-largest rodents in North America, weighing up to 15 pounds. Despite their habit of gnawing on wood, they are crucial players in their ecosystems.

Keller likens them to “ecological engineers,” much like beavers. By feeding on tree bark and creating snags (standing dead trees), porcupines help to open up forest canopies. This allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, promoting the growth of new plants.

“Enhancing species diversity with natives like porcupines enriches the entire ecosystem,” Keller explained.

Dan Lynch, public relations director for the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, echoed this sentiment. “Every species, including porcupines, has a vital role in the ecosystem. They’re not harmful at all,” he said.

Encounters and Hunting

While porcupines can damage wooden structures, they are generally harmless to people. They are often attracted to the salt used on roads, leading to many being hit by vehicles. Their quills, which are designed to lodge into predators, can also cause painful injuries to pets. Therefore, it’s important to keep pets away from these animals.

For those interested in hunting, Pennsylvania offers a porcupine hunting season. Hunters can harvest three porcupines a day, up to a total of ten per season, provided they have a general hunting license and a furtakers permit. In 2022, hunters harvested nearly 4,800 porcupines.

Lynch mentioned that many hunters pursue porcupines out of curiosity or to collect their quills and pelts. “If I lived in an area with porcupines, I might hunt one to try its meat or to gather its quills,” he admitted.


Porcupines are steadily expanding their range across Pennsylvania, bringing their unique behaviors and ecological benefits to new areas. While they can be a bit of a nuisance to property owners, their role in the environment is valuable.

As they continue to spread, more Pennsylvanians might get the chance to observe these fascinating creatures in their neighborhoods. If you come across a porcupine, it’s best to enjoy watching it from a safe distance and keep your pets away from its quills.

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