Porcupines are known for their pointed quills that grow like hairs from their bodies. These rodents use their quills as their defense. There are two families of porcupines. These are:
- Old World Porcupines
- New World Porcupines
These two families of porcupines are not similar except for their quills. The “quill-pigs” are not too calm in nature. Whenever they see any danger, they become very aggressive.
Our wildlife guide will cover all the necessary details of the porcupine world. Let’s quickly get to the sections and know more about the prickly animals.
- Latin name: africanus (African brush-tailed porcupine)
- Family name: Hystricidae (Old World porcupines) & Erethizontidae (New World Porcupines)
- Size: 60-90 centimeters
- Tail Size: 20-25 centimeters
- Weight: 5-16 kilograms
Skip to: Characteristics, Range & habitat, Diet, Behaviour, Fun facts, Video
Most of the porcupines are round. They are bigger than other Rodents. Porcupines are slow-moving animals and they use their quills as their defense. Porcupines have different shades of brown, grey, and white coats.
Let’s have a look at the characteristics of Old and New World porcupines separately. As they belong from different families there are some major differences between the two.
Old World porcupines characteristics
Old World porcupines mainly live in the land. They have a stout and heavily built figure. Their heads are round and blunt. The quills of these porcupines are cylindrical or flattened. They have spines or quills that cover their body like a coat. Their body hairs are not mixed with the quills. They grow separately over their bodies.
The long-tailed porcupine of the Old World is 27.9-48 cm long and its weight varies from 1.5 to 2.3 kg. Whereas, the larger crested porcupine is 60-83 cm long and its body weight is 13-27 kg.
The Old World porcupines belong to the infraorder Hystricognathi of the order Rodentia.
New World porcupines characteristics
New World porcupines are more or less similar in physical features to the Old World porcupines. However, the major difference lies in their distribution of quills. Unlike Old World porcupines, the family of New World porcupines has their quills mixed with their long and soft hairs. Another difference lies in their size.
The prehensile-tailed porcupine, a relatively small species, is approximately 30 cm long and its weight is only 900 gm. One of the larger species in the family of New World porcupines, the North American porcupine is 86 cm long and it weighs up to 18 kg.
This type of porcupine mainly lives in trees. Some of them build dens on the ground.
Old World porcupines vs New world porcupines
Let’s have a look at the features that differentiate Old world porcupines from the porcupines of the New World. Although they belong to the same order of Rodentia, they are not totally similar in their physical construction.
- The quills of the New World porcupines are not grouped in clusters like Old World porcupines. The quills stick to their skin singly.
- The New World porcupines can easily climb trees. In fact, they spend most of their time in trees. Whereas, Old World porcupines are strictly terrestrial animals. They can’t climb trees as they don’t show any special adaptation like the porcupines of the New World.
- Some New World porcupines are smaller in size and they weigh less than the porcupines of the Old World.
- The porcupines of the New World evolved their spines independently. In the case of Old World porcupines, they don’t show such an evolution of quills.
- Apart from the physical characteristics, the New World porcupines have rooted molar teeth. They have complete collar bones and they don’t have first front toes. It’s not the case in the Old World porcupines.
Do you know porcupines are shy animals? You can read about the Top 5 Shy Animals here.
Range & habitat
The porcupines have a small range of habitats across the world. They mostly live in tropical and temperate parts of Asia, Africa, Southern Europe, and North and South America. Porcupines live in a variety of areas like forests, deserts, rocky regions, and hillsides.
As it is mentioned earlier, the New World porcupines live in trees. The porcupines of the Old World live in rocky areas. They are also found in the rocky areas up to 3,700 meters high.
Let’s know about the range and habitat of the porcupines of the Old World and the New World specifically.
Old World porcupines
Range: South of Europe and the Levant, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Flores.
Habitat: Terrestrial regions, like forests (not in trees), deserts, hillsides, and rocky parts.
New World porcupines
Range: North America and northern South America.
Habitat: Forests and woody regions; mainly found in trees.
Both the porcupines of the Old and the New World are herbivorous animals. So they chew on leaves, herbs, twigs, and green plants. In the winter, they mainly feed on bark and roots. They also prefer fruits and berries as well as farm crops.
The Old World porcupines for their liking towards farmland crops have become a pest in Kenya. (“Porcupines raise thorny questions in Kenya” BBC News, August 19, 2005.)
Behavior & lifestyle
Porcupines are nocturnal animals. They came out from their hides at night for finding food and it is also meant for avoiding any direct contact with predators. Few of the species are found roaming in daylight.
Porcupines form colonies and the young ones spend their time up to maturity in the group. The colony is generally headed by male porcupines. However, female porcupines also protect their group members along with males.
Fun porcupine facts
Here is a list of “Top 5 Fun Porcupine Facts” that will definitely surprise you. In fact, these rodents are amazing to learn about!
- Porcupines are color blond. They can only see markings of black and white!
- Porcupines use an innovative defense strategy. It is called aposematic defense. While facing predators they advertise themselves by erecting their quills. They indirectly give a message to the predator that they are not worth attacking. So the predator for its own safety should avoid it. Isn’t it amazing?
- Porcupines are born with soft quills and it hardens within a few hours of birth. That’s why a mother doesn’t get hurt while giving birth to baby porcupines!
- Porcupine quill is actually a modified hair. It is coated with thick plates of keratin.
- A porcupine often gets hurt by its own quills. Then the antibiotic properties in their quills help them recover their self-injury.
Meet the porcupine
Here at SafarisAfricana, you can read more about Safari Animals.
Are porcupines ugly animals? To find the answer, you can read about the Ugly Animals here.
Did you enjoy learning more about the porcupine? Have you ever met this unique creature face-to-face? Tell us about your porcupine experience in the comment section below. Because those who care share!
- Porcupine. biblehub.com
- “Porcupines, Porcupine Pictures, Porcupine Facts“. National Geographic. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- “North American porcupine – Erethizon dorsatum (Linnaeus, 1758)“. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Archived from the original on June 7, 2014. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- Roze, Uldis (2009). The North American Porcupine Second Edition (Second ed.). Cornell University, United States of America: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-4646-7.
- Roze, Locke, Uldis, David (March 1990). “Antibiotic Properties of Porcupine Quills”. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 16 (3): 725–734. doi:10.1007/bf01016483. PMID 24263588.
- Guang, Li (1997). “Waring Odor of the North American Porcupine”. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 23 (12): 2737–2754. Bibcode:1997JSP….23.2737L. doi:10.1023/a:1022511026529.
- Mori, Emiliano (October 2013). “The defense strategy of the crested porcupine Hystrix cristata”. ResearchGate.
- David Attenborough (2014). Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities 2. Armoured Animals. UKTV.
- “Topical Bible: Porcupine” biblehub.com. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
- Woods, Charles (1984). Macdonald, D. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 686–689. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.