Sometimes zoo babies are a surprise, and that’s exactly what happened when Molly, a North American Porcupine, surprised keepers at the Woodland Park Zoo by delivering a male porcupette (the actual name for a baby Porcupine) on April 18.
Molly and her mate Oliver joined Woodland Park Zoo in June 2011 shortly after their second birthdays. At such a young age, zookeepers expected that Oliver was a year shy of sexual maturity, but Oliver wasn’t paying attention to the zoo keepers’ timetable. As keepers look back, they now realize that Molly became pregnant in September, giving her a seven-month gestation period before birthing the pair’s first baby.
A porcupette is born with a full coat and open eyes, in contrast to many other rodents. Within hours of birth its soft coat of quills begins to harden, immediately preparing it for protection from predators. The baby becomes active quickly and—as a natural tree dweller—its climbing instincts take hold within weeks of delivery. That climbing ability will come in handy as the youngster weans itself from mom and transitions to an herbivorous diet of leaves, twigs, and bark.
Molly and the newborn are currently in an off-exhibit den, though Molly sometimes leaves to stretch her legs in their exhibit. In the wild, a mother Porcupine would leave the newborn to nest in a safe area on the ground and she would retreat to the trees for food and shelter.In the warmth of their den box, the pair nuzzles close to one another until the porcupette breaks free from her embrace and explores their shared space. Time and time again, Molly will swoop her paws beneath his belly and pull him back to her chest for what looks like a Porcupine hug.