Porcupine is a mammal whose most striking feature is the presence of pointed structures that help to ward off possible predators . These structures are capable of puncturing the predator’s skin, causing a lot of pain. Porcupines are rodents and feed on different types of food, including plant material and even carrion, depending on the species. Generally speaking, porcupines can be divided into two groups: old world porcupines and new world porcupines.

porcupine summary

  • They are rodent animals (order Rodentia ).
  • They are included in two families and are classified into Old World Hedgehogs and New World Hedgehogs.
  • Its most striking feature is the presence of modified hairs capable of penetrating the skin of possible threats.
  • They are unable to shed their thorns.
  • Its thorns contain no poison.
  • Its spines can be very difficult to remove, requiring medical or veterinary help.


Porcupines are mammals belonging to the order Rodentia , and are therefore rodent animals. They have as their most striking feature modified hairs that are hard and pointed. These hairs are popularly called spines, hence the name porcupine.

Animals called porcupines are grouped into two families: Hystricidae and Erethizontidae . Porcupines that are part of the Hystricidae family are called Old World porcupines, while those of the Erethizontidae family are called New World porcupines.

In the family Hystricidae , we have 11 species , which are distributed in three genera. Organisms of this family are observed in Asia and also in Africa. They stand out for having a broad head, small ears and eyes, and short limbs. In some species, the tail is short, and in others, it can reach greater length. They stand out for being great diggers and able to build their den. Unlike porcupines in the family Erethizontidae , Old World porcupines do not climb trees.

In the family Erethizontidae , we have 12 species of porcupines, which are included in four distinct genera. New world porcupines occur in America. These animals are most often seen in pairs or alone and stand out for being nocturnal. Many spend much of their lives up in the trees, being great climbers.

Porcupines are consumed as a delicacy in some regions of the world, such as Thailand, and are heavily hunted for this purpose. In addition, they are hunted for so-called bezoars , which are masses of undigested plant material that are present in their viscera.

Bezoars are sold in different forms, such as raw, powdered or in capsules, in addition to having great medicinal properties. It is worth noting, however, that the curative property of these materials has no scientific proof.

Function of porcupine quills

Porcupines are quite slow animals, and the spines present on their body are used for defense . When feeling threatened, they can shake their bodies and, consequently, their spines as a form of warning. When touched by another organism, these spines penetrate the aggressor’s skin and cause a painful injury.

It is worth noting that the spines are very difficult to remove after penetrating the skin. Therefore, if a pet or a person has thorns on their body, it is essential to seek specialized help. The attempt to remove them improperly can cause complications, such as increased lesions, infections and breakage of the thorn inside the skin.

It is important to make clear that porcupine spines are not thrown at predators. What happens is that the spines are loosely attached to the porcupine’s body, which facilitates the release when this animal is touched. Another myth surrounding its thorns is the presence of poison. The spines do not have toxic substances , however, when they enter the skin, they can cause intense pain . In addition, the injuries caused by them can favor the entry of bacteria , which can cause infections.

Porcupine feeding

Porcupines are animals that have a varied diet , eating both plant and animal materials. Old world porcupines feed on plant material and carrion. Those of the new world, in turn, can ingest plant material such as tree bark, leaves, roots, flowers and fruits, as well as insects and small reptiles .

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