20+ Interesting Facts About Porcupines

  1. Porcupines are large herbivorous rodents present in many parts of the world. Their most prominent feature is quills (spines) on most parts of their body. The meaning of its name is “quill pig” due to its spines and resemblance to a pig.
  2. Porcupines have two families according to their location: Old World and New World porcupines. Old World Porcupines are present in Asia, Africa, and southern Europe, while the locality of New World Porcupines is the Americas.
  3. Old World porcupines are further divided into 11 species in three genera, while there are 16 species in five genera of New World porcupines. These include hairy dwarf porcupines (9 species), prehensile-tailed porcupines (four species), stump-tailed porcupines (one species), bristle-spined porcupines (one species), and North American porcupines (one species). The three Old World porcupines are short-tailed porcupines (8 species), long-tailed porcupines (one species), and brush-tailed porcupines (two species).
  4. Both porcupine families have several similar features, such as stubby legs, herbivorous diet, swimming, and sharp quills that detach easily. However, there are also many differences between them. All Old World species (except the long-tailed porcupine that can climb trees) are terrestrial, while all New World species are arboreal with prehensile tails (except the North American porcupine). Old World porcupines can jump or gallop, while this feature is not present in New World porcupines.   
  5. The size of various Porcupine species differs significantly. The largest is the common (or North African crested) porcupine with a head and body length of 90 cm (tail length of 17 cm) and weighs up to 27 kg. It is native to North Africa (MoroccoAlgeria, and Tunisia), parts of eastern and western Africa and Italy. The smallest is the Bahia (or pallid hairy dwarf) porcupine, native to southeastern Brazil. It measures up to 70 cm, nearly half of which is tail, and weighs around 1.2 kg. (Source) (Source)
  6. Quills are modified hairs in porcupines. They can detach easily from their skin and embed in the body of an attacker, but porcupines cannot shoot them. They raise their spines for defense and can easily replace their lost quills. These spines are present as clusters in Old World porcupines and remain separate in New World porcupines. Some species use the rattling sound of these quills to communicate during courtship and to warn predators.
  7. The number and size of quills differ according to porcupine species. The length of spines is generally 3 inches, while they can grow over 15 inches in African porcupines. Some species have up to 30,000 quills. These quills are not only painful for victims but can also cause deadly wounds. 
    A porcupine
    Some porcupine species have up to 30,000 quills on their body

  8. Quills provide a reliable defense for porcupines against many predators, including snakes and lions. However, pumas and fishers (carnivorous mammals) can easily hunt them by attacking their front and underbelly, the areas without spines. The wound or infection inflicted by porcupine quills can make some lions man-eaters. (Source)
  9. Porcupine quills can penetrate flesh easily and stay there due to their tiny backward-facing barbs. Scientists are studying these features to develop less painful needles and stickier adhesives. (Source)
  10. Free fatty acids that coat the quills of porcupines have antibiotic properties. They inhabit the growth of gram-positive bacteria. Porcupines usually fall from trees and cause self-injury. The antibiotic features of their quills enable these animals to heal their wounds after such falls. (Source)
  11. Microscopic barbs in porcupine quills not only allow the quills to stick firmly in the victim’s body but migrate to other parts of the body and leave on their own if left untreated. However, the powerful antibiotic on these quills can protect the sufferer from bacterial infection. (Source)
  12. Porcupines are among the longest-living rodents. Both Old World and New World porcupines can live longer than most rodents. Malayan porcupines, crested porcupines, Indian crested porcupines, and prehensile-tailed porcupines can live up to 27 years. The highest lifespan in rodents is 28 years in naked mole-rats.
  13. According to research, ancient porcupines were present in Siberia and the Ural Mountains (in Russia) between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. Around 27,000 years ago, the Last Glacial Maximum reduced forested area, temperature, and precipitation in this region. It resulted in the extinction of porcupines from the caves of the Urals and Gorny Altai. (Source)
  14. Female porcupines of various species give birth from one to four babies. They have soft quills at birth, which harden after a few days. Babies become independent after nearly two months.
  15. Porcupines have weak eyesight and compensate for it with strong senses of smell, hearing, and taste. These mammals produce different sounds (whining, grunting, shrieks, howls, etc.) while mating, fighting, or after sensing a danger.
  16. Various porcupine species remain active between early evenings and dawn. During the day, they rest in hollow trees, rock crevices, or burrows of other animals. They do not hibernate but spend cold or stormy days inside a den.
  17. Porcupines are herbivorous, and their diet consists of a variety of plant food according to season. These include berries, nuts, seeds, fruits, leaves, roots, stems, cultivated crops, bark of trees, etc. Some species also eat bones and antlers to fulfill their calcium and mineral requirements.
  18. Porcupines are sometimes considered pests due to the damage they cause to various crops and trees. It is due to their consumption of tree bark, nuts, seeds, fruits, etc. They cause more damage to trees than squirrels and other small mammals that remove tree bark.
  19. Porcupine meat is a delicacy in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia). However, this rodent faces its biggest threat due to its use in traditional Chinese medicine. Bezoars, undigested plant material in their gut, are believed to have exceptional medicinal properties. Therefore, it has become an expensive substance due to its usage in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of fatal diseases, such as dengue, diabetes, and cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence of these claims. Due to their extensive hunting, IUCN has declared three local species of porcupines (the Asiatic brush-tailed porcupine, the Malayan, and the Philippine porcupine) as threatened. (Source)
  20. The mating procedure for Old World and New World porcupines is different. Old World porcupines are among the 5% of mammals with monogamous pairs. The pair mates throughout the year, but the female breeds once or twice annually. It reproduces after a gestation period of around 100 days. On the other hand, New World porcupines have a single mating and breeding season. Males fight to win the receptive female during a specific short period. The gestation period is over 200 days. Males in both families squirt females with urine before mating.
  21. Old World porcupines are adaptable and live in forestsdesertsmountains, rocky areas, etc. Most New World porcupines prefer tropical forests due to their arboreal lifestyle.
  22. Porcupines are generally solitary creatures and usually meet only during the breeding season. However, members of some species in cold areas may spend winter in a den together.

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