Porcupines are rodents with a coat of sharp spines, or quills, that protect against predators. The term covers two families of animals, the Old World porcupines of family Hystricidae, and the New World porcupines of family Erethizontidae. Both families belong to the infraorder Hystricognathi within the profoundly diverse order Rodentia and display superficially similar coats of quills: despite this, the two groups are distinct from each other and are not closely related to each other within the Hystricognathi.

The Old World porcupines live in southern Europe, Asia (western[1] and southern), and most of Africa. They are large, terrestrial, and strictly nocturnal. In taxonomic terms, they form the family Hystricidae.

The New World porcupines are indigenous to North America and northern South America. They live in wooded areas and can climb trees, where some species spend their entire lives. They are less strictly nocturnal than their Old World relatives, and generally smaller. In taxonomic terms, they form the family Erethizontidae.

Most porcupines are about 60–90 cm (25–36 in) long, with an 20–25 cm (8–10 in) long tail. Weighing 5–16 kg (12–35 lb), they are rounded, large, and slow, and use aposematic strategy of defense. Porcupines occur in various shades of brown, gray, and white. Porcupines' spiny protection resembles that of the unrelated erinaceomorph hedgehogs and Australian monotreme echidnas.

North American porcupine
North American porcupine
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Suborder: Hystricomorpha
Infraorder: Hystricognathi
Groups included
Cladistically included but traditionally excluded taxa


The name "porcupine" comes from Latin porcus pig + spina spine, quill, via Old Italian—Middle FrenchMiddle English.[2][3] A regional American name for the animal is quill pig.[4]


Fossils belonging to the genus Hystrix date back to the late Miocene of the continent of Africa.[5]



A porcupine is any of 58 species of rodents belonging to the families Erethizontidae (genera: Coendou, Erethizon, and Chaetomys) or Hystricidae (genera: Atherurus, Hystrix, and Trichys). Porcupines vary in size considerably: Rothschild's porcupine of South America weighs less than a kilogram (2.2 lb); the crested porcupine found in Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa can grow to well over 27 kg (60 lb). The two families of porcupines are quite different, and although both belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, they are not closely related.

Old World compared with New World species

The 11 Old World porcupines tend to be fairly large, and have spikes grouped in clusters.

The two subfamilies of New World porcupines are mostly smaller (although the North American porcupine reaches about 85 cm or 33 in in length and 18 kg or 40 lb), have their quills attached singly rather than grouped in clusters, and are excellent climbers, spending much of their time in trees. The New World porcupines evolved their spines independently (through convergent evolution) and are more closely related to several other families of rodents than they are to the Old World porcupines.


Porcupines have a relatively high longevity and had held the record for being the longest-living rodent, with one individual living to 27 years,[6] until the record was broken in 2002 by a naked mole-rat living to 28 years.[7]


The North American porcupine is an herbivore; it eats leaves, herbs, twigs, and green plants such as clover. In the winter, it may eat bark. It often climbs trees to find food.[8]

The African porcupine is not a climber and forages on the ground.[8] It is mostly nocturnal,[9] but will sometimes forage for food in the day, eating bark, roots, fruits and berries, as well as farm crops. Porcupines have become a pest in Kenya and are eaten as a delicacy.[10]


Defensive behaviour displays in a porcupine depend on sight, scent and sound. Often, displays are shown when a porcupine becomes agitated or annoyed. There are four main displays seen in a porcupine which are quill erection, teeth clattering, emitting of odour, and attack.[11] These displays are ranked from least aggressive to most aggressive respectively. A porcupine's colouring aids in part of its defence as most of the predators are nocturnal and colour blind. A porcupine's markings are black and white. The dark body and coarse hair of the porcupine are a dark brown/black and when quills are raised, present a white strip down its back mimicking the look of a skunk. This, along with the raising of the sharp quills, deters predators. Along with the raising of the quills, porcupines clatter their teeth causing warning noise to let predators know not to come closer. The incisors vibrate against each other, the strike zone shifts back and the cheek teeth clatter. This behaviour is often paired with body shivering which is used to further display the dangerous quills.[11] The rattling of quills is aided by the hollow quills at the back end of the porcupine.[12] The use of odor is when the sight and sound have failed. An invasive scent is produced from the skin above the tail in times of stress, and is often seen with quill erection.[13] If the above processes fail, the porcupine will attack by running sideways or backwards into predators. A porcupines tail is also able to swing in the direction of the predator. If contact is made, the quills could be impaled into the predator causing injury or death.[14]


Stekelvarken Aiguilles Porc-épic
Quills grow in varying lengths and colours, depending on the animal's age and species.

Porcupines' quills, or spines, take on various forms, depending on the species, but all are modified hairs coated with thick plates of keratin,[15] and embedded in the skin musculature. Old World porcupines have quills embedded in clusters, whereas in New World porcupines, single quills are interspersed with bristles, underfur, and hair.

Quills are released by contact or may drop out when the porcupine shakes its body. New quills grow to replace lost ones.[15] Porcupines were long believed to have the ability to project their quills to a considerable distance at an enemy, but this has since been proven to be untrue.[16][17]

There are some possible antibiotic properties within the quills, specifically associated with the free fatty acids coating the quills.[12] The antibiotic properties are believed to aid a porcupine that has suffered from self injury.

Porcupines grow new quills to replace the ones they lose.[18]

Uses by humans

Porcupine guardhair headdress made by native peoples from Sonora displayed at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City

Porcupines are only occasionally eaten in Western culture, but are very popular in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, where the prominent use of them as a food source has contributed to significant declines in their populations.[19][20][21]

More commonly, their quills and guardhairs are used for traditional decorative clothing. For example, their guardhairs are used in the creation of the Native American "porky roach" headdress. The main quills may be dyed, and then applied in combination with thread to embellish leather accessories such as knife sheaths and leather bags. Lakota women would harvest the quills for quillwork by throwing a blanket over a porcupine and retrieving the quills it left stuck in the blanket.[22]

The presence of barbs, acting like anchors, makes it more painful to remove a quill that has pierced the skin.[15] The shape of the barbs helps makes the quills more effective both for penetrating the skin and remaining in place.[23] The quills have inspired research for such applications as the design of hypodermic needles.[23]


Tree Climbing Porcupines
A pair of North American porcupines in their habitat in Quebec

Porcupines occupy a short range of habitats in tropical and temperate parts of Asia, Southern Europe, Africa, and North and South America. They live in forests and deserts, and on rocky outcrops and hillsides. Some New World porcupines live in trees, but Old World porcupines stay on the rocks. Porcupines can be found on rocky areas up to 3,700 m (12,100 ft) high. They are generally nocturnal, but are occasionally active during daylight.

Marco Polo BNF manuscrit 2810 Porc-épicHystricidae
Hunting porcupine near the town of Cassem, The Book of Wonders by Marco Polo (first book), illumination stored at the French national library (manuscript 2810)


North American porcupine eating grass and clover

Porcupines are distributed into two evolutionarily independent groups within the suborder Hystricomorpha of the Rodentia.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31]

See also


  1. ^ Porcupine. biblehub.com
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, s.v. "porcupine" . Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  3. ^ Wedgwood, Hensleigh (1855). "On False Etymologies". Transactions of the Philological Society (6): 68.
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "quill Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine" . Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  5. ^ Barthelmess, E.L. (2006). "Hystix africaeaustralis". Mammalian Species. 788 (788): 1–7. doi:10.1644/788.1.
  6. ^ Parker, SB (1990) Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, vol. 4, McGraw-Hill, New York.
  7. ^ Buffenstein, Rochelle; Jarvis, Jennifer U. M. (May 2002). "The naked mole rat—a new record for the oldest living rodent". Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. 2002 (21): pe7. doi:10.1126/sageke.2002.21.pe7. PMID 14602989.
  8. ^ a b "Porcupines, Porcupine Pictures, Porcupine Facts". National Geographic. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  9. ^ "North American porcupine – Erethizon dorsatum (Linnaeus, 1758)". Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  10. ^ "Porcupines raise thorny questions in Kenya". BBC News. August 19, 2005. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  11. ^ a b 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.
  12. ^ a b 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Mori, Emiliano (October 2013). "The defense strategy of the crested porcupine Hystrix cristata". ResearchGate.
  15. ^ a b c David Attenborough (2014). Attenborough's Natural Curiosities 2. Armoured Animals. UKTV.
  16. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, Enlarged and Improved. Archibald Constable. 1823. pp. 501–.
  17. ^ Shepard, Thomas Goodwin (1865). The natural history of secession. Derby & Miller. pp. 78–.
  18. ^ "Porcupines | National Geographic". Animals. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2019-04-16.
  19. ^ "Wild Southeast Asian porcupines under threat due to illegal hunting, researchers find". Sciencedaily.com. 2010-08-25. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  20. ^ Brooks, Emma G.E.; Roberton, Scott I.; Bell, Diana J. (2010). "The conservation impact of commercial wildlife farming of porcupines in Vietnam". Biological Conservation. 143 (11): 2808. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.07.030.
  21. ^ Ettinger, Powell (2010-08-30). "Wildlife Extra News – Illegal hunting threatens Vietnam's wild porcupines". Wildlifeextra.com. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  22. ^ "Lakota Quillwork Art and Legend". Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  23. ^ a b Cho, W. K.; Ankrum, J. A.; Guo, D.; Chester, S. A.; Yang, S. Y.; Kashyap, A.; Campbell, G. A.; Wood, R. J.; Rijal, R. K.; et al. (2012). "Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109 (52): 21289–94. Bibcode:2012PNAS..10921289C. doi:10.1073/pnas.1216441109. PMC 3535670. PMID 23236138.
  24. ^ Huchon D., Catzeflis F. & Douzery E. J. P. (2000). "Variance of molecular datings, evolution of rodents, and the phylogenetic affinities between Ctenodactylidae and Hystricognathi". Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 267 (1441): 393–402. doi:10.1098/rspb.2000.1014. PMC 1690539. PMID 10722222.
  25. ^ Murphy W. J.; Eizirik E.; Johnson W. E.; Zhang Y. P.; Ryder O. A.; O'Brien S. (2001). "Molecular phylogenetics and the origins of placental mammals". Nature. 409 (6820): 614–618. doi:10.1038/35054550. PMID 11214319.
  26. ^ Huchon D.; Chevret P.; Jordan U.; Kilpatrick C. W.; Ranwez V.; Jenkins P. D.; Brosius J.; Schmitz J. (2007). "Multiple molecular evidences for a living mammalian fossil". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 104 (18): 7495–7499. Bibcode:2007PNAS..104.7495H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0701289104. PMC 1863447. PMID 17452635.
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External links

Crested porcupine

The crested porcupine (Hystrix cristata) is a species of rodent in the family Hystricidae found in Italy, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Free State Project

The Free State Project (FSP) is a political migration founded in 2001 to recruit at least 20,000 libertarians to move to a single low-population state (New Hampshire, selected in 2003) in order to make the state a stronghold for libertarian ideas. The project seeks to overcome the historical ineffectiveness of limited government activism which they believe was caused by the small number and diffuse population of libertarian activists across the 50 United States and around the world.

Participants sign a statement of intent declaring that they intend to move to New Hampshire within five years of the drive reaching 20,000 participants. This statement of intent is intended to function as a form of assurance contract. As of February 3, 2016, 20,000 people have signed this statement of intent—completing the original goal—and 1,909 people are listed as "early movers" to New Hampshire on the FSP website, saying they had made their move prior to the 20,000-participant trigger. Approximately a dozen Free Staters were elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in the 2012 election and about 18 in the 2014 election.

The FSP is a social movement generally based upon decentralized decision making. The group hosts various events, but most of FSP's activities depend upon volunteers, and no formal plan dictates to participants or movers what their actions should be in New Hampshire.

Gavin Harrison

Gavin Harrison (born 28 May 1963) is a British musician. He is best known for playing with the British progressive rock bands Porcupine Tree and King Crimson.

Hedgehog's dilemma

The hedgehog's dilemma, or sometimes the porcupine dilemma, is a metaphor about the challenges of human intimacy. It describes a situation in which a group of hedgehogs seek to move close to one another to share heat during cold weather. They must remain apart, however, as they cannot avoid hurting one another with their sharp spines. Though they all share the intention of a close reciprocal relationship, this may not occur, for reasons they cannot avoid.

Both Arthur Schopenhauer and Sigmund Freud have used this situation to describe what they feel is the state of the individual in relation to others in society. The hedgehog's dilemma suggests that despite goodwill, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships. With the hedgehog's dilemma, one is recommended to use moderation in affairs with others both because of self-interest, as well as out of consideration for others. The hedgehog's dilemma is used to explain introversion and self-imposed isolation.

Indian crested porcupine

The Indian crested porcupine (Hystrix indica), or Indian porcupine, is a large species of hystricomorph rodent (order Rodentia) belonging to the Old World porcupine family, Hystricidae. It is native to southern Asia and the Middle East.

New World porcupine

The New World porcupines, family Erethizontidae, are large arboreal rodents, distinguished by their spiny coverings from which they take their name. They inhabit forests and wooded regions across North America, and into northern South America. Although both the New World and Old World porcupine families belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, they are quite different and are not closely related.

North American porcupine

The North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), also known as the Canadian porcupine or common porcupine, is a large rodent in the New World porcupine family. The beaver is the only rodent in North America that is larger than the North American porcupine. The porcupine is a caviomorph rodent whose ancestors rafted across the Atlantic from Africa to Brazil over 30 million years ago, and then migrated to North America during the Great American Interchange after the Isthmus of Panama rose 3 million years ago.

Old World porcupine

The Old World porcupines, or Hystricidae, are large terrestrial rodents, distinguished by the spiny covering from which they take their name. They range over the south of Europe and the Levant, most of Africa, India, and the maritime Southeast Asia as far east as Flores. Although both the Old World and New World porcupine families belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, they are quite different and are not closely related.

Porcupine, South Dakota

Porcupine (Lakota: pȟahíŋ siŋté; "porcupine tail") is a census-designated place (CDP) in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, United States. The population was 1,062 at the 2010 census.

The community most likely was named after Porcupine Butte. Porcupine has been noted for its unusual place name, and for its designation as the unofficial capital of the unrecognized Republic of Lakotah.

Porcupine (comics)

Porcupine is the name used by three fictional characters appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.

Porcupine Gorge National Park

Porcupine Gorge National Park is a national park in Porcupine, Shire of Finders in North West Queensland, Australia, 1,174 km northwest of Brisbane and 60 km north of Hughenden. Established in 1970, the national park has an area of 54.10 km² and is managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. It is an IUCN category II park.

The national park was established in the area surround Porcupine Gorge. The gorge features strata of sedimentary rocks which span hundreds of millions of years.

Porcupine Meadows Provincial Park

Porcupine Meadows Provincial Park is a 2,704 hectare provincial park in British Columbia, Canada, located north of Tranquille Lake to the northwest of Kamloops. Its name is a direct translation of the Shuswap word for this area, "pisitsoolsia", named so for the numerous porcupine in the area.

Porcupine Mountains

The Porcupine Mountains, or Porkies, are a group of small mountains spanning the northwestern Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Ontonagon and Gogebic counties, near the shore of Lake Superior. The Porcupine Mountains were named by the native Ojibwa people, supposedly because their silhouette had the shape of a crouching porcupine. They are home to the most extensive stand of old growth northern hardwood forest in North America west of the Adirondack Mountains, spanning at least 31,000 acres (13,000 ha). In these virgin forests, sugar maple, American basswood, eastern hemlock, and yellow birch are the most abundant tree species. The area is part of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Porcupine Plain

Porcupine Plain is a town in Saskatchewan, Canada. It is accessed by Highway 23. Greenwater Lake Provincial Park is 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) southwest on Highway 38. The town is located within the Porcupine Provincial Forest. The town was originally settled by returning World War I veterans who settled in the area during the early 1920s. Quilly Willy is the town mascot used on promotional material. Porcupine Plain is the hometown of Calgary Hitmen play-by-play man Brad Curle and the company Sweet Pure Honey.

Porcupine Tree

Porcupine Tree were an English rock band formed by musician Steven Wilson in 1987. The band began essentially as a solo project for Wilson, who created all of the band's music. By late 1993, however, he wanted to work in a band environment, bringing on frequent collaborators Richard Barbieri as keyboardist, Colin Edwin as bassist, and Chris Maitland as drummer to form the first permanent lineup. With Wilson as lead vocalist and guitarist, this remained the lineup until February 2002, when Maitland left the band and Gavin Harrison was recruited to replace him.

Porcupine Tree's early sound evoked a style of psychedelic rock comparable to that of progressive rock band Pink Floyd. Upon signing with Kscope record label in the late 1990s, the band approached a more mainstream alternative rock sound. By the early 2000s, the band had signed to a major record label and shifted their sound again, this time in a more progressive metal direction.

After the release and tour in support of their tenth studio album, The Incident, their biggest commercial success to date, the band became inactive as Wilson committed himself to his solo work, and other members began working on their own separate projects. In 2018, after years of indetermination, Wilson ruled out a possible reformation.

During a career spanning more than 20 years, Porcupine Tree earned critical acclaim from critics and fellow musicians, developed a cult following, and became an influence for new artists. However, their work mostly stayed away from mainstream music, being described by publications such as Classic Rock and PopMatters as "the most important band you’d never heard of."


Quillwork is a form of textile embellishment traditionally practiced by Native Americans that employs the quills of porcupines as an aesthetic element. Quills from bird feathers were also occasionally used in quillwork.

Rural Municipality of Porcupine No. 395

Porcupine No. 395 is a rural municipality in north eastern Saskatchewan. It was formed on February 28, 1944.

Steven Wilson

Steven John Wilson (born 3 November 1967) is an English musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer, most closely associated with the progressive rock genre. Currently a solo artist, he became known as the founder, lead guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter of the band Porcupine Tree, as well as being a member of several other bands.

Wilson is a self-taught composer, producer, audio engineer, guitar and keyboard player, and plays other instruments as needed, including bass guitar, autoharp, hammered dulcimer and flute. Despite being mainly associated with progressive rock, his influences and work have encompassed a diverse range of genres including psychedelia, pop, extreme metal, electronic and jazz, among others, shifting his musical direction through his albums. His concerts incorporate quadraphonic sound and elaborate visuals. He has also worked with artists such as Opeth, King Crimson, Pendulum, Jethro Tull, Andy Partridge, Yes, Marillion, Tears for Fears, Roxy Music and Anathema.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Wilson has made music prolifically and earned critical acclaim. His honours include four nominations for the Grammy Awards, twice with Porcupine Tree, with his collaborative band Storm Corrosion and as a soloist on one occasion. In 2015, he received three awards at the Progressive Music Awards in London for his services to the genre, where he was crowned "the king of prog rock". Nevertheless, his work has largely stayed away from mainstream music, and he has been described by publications such as The Daily Telegraph as "the most successful British artist you've never heard of".


Timmins ( TIM-ins) is a city in northeastern Ontario, Canada, on the Mattagami River. The city is the fourth-largest city in the Northeastern Ontario region with a population of 41,788 (2016). The city's economy is based on natural resource extraction and is supported by industries related to lumbering and to the mining of gold, zinc, copper, nickel and silver. Timmins serves as a regional service and distribution centre. The city has a large Francophone community, with more than 50% bilingual in French and English.

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