Porcupine: identikit and what to know about this animal

Porcupine: identikit and what to know about this funny rodent (photo)

One of the most peculiar looking wild animals is certainly theistrice. Also known by the colloquial name of pigskin, l’Hystrix cristata is a rodent that is part of the Istricidae family. We find it widespread both in southern Europe and in Africa.

The porcupine is the victim of an urban legend: according to many people it is capable of throwing its quills at enemies. In reality, he just sticks them with the latter, which detach from the back, but he is certainly not able to throw them at a distance of meters. So let’s find out more about appearance, size, behavior and Power supply.

Scientific classification

Source: Pixabay

This is the scientific classification of the porcupine:

  • Dominio: Eukaryota
  • Kingdom: Animals
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Superordine: Euarchontoglires
  • Order: Rodentia
  • Sottordine: Hystricomorpha
  • Infraordine: Hystricognathi
  • Family: Hystricidae
  • Genere: Hystrix
  • Species: H. cristata

What is the difference between porcupine and hedgehog?

Hedgehog and hedgehog they are not the same animal. They belong to two different families: the hedgehog is part of the Erinaceidae family, while the porcupine belongs to that of the Hstricidae. But not only that, they belong to two different orders: the hedgehog is part of the order of the Eulipotyphla, while the porcupine is part of the order of the Rodentia (rodents).

The hedgehog is smaller, the quills are shorter and tends to defend itself not by sticking the quills into the aggressor, but by curling up on itself and practically transforming itself into a ball covered with quills. It is insectivorous and tends to live in the undergrowth.

The porcupine is much larger, has long quills that can detach and remain stuck in any attackers. As a food, it feeds on roots, tubers, fruit and bark.

Appearance and characteristics of the porcupine

porcupine porcupines
Source: Pixabay

The hedgehog is a rodent whose back is covered with long black or white bristles in the front, while in the central part and on the rump they sprout long stings. The head, neck and limbs are covered with black or dark bristles, up to 50 mm long. The central part of the rump is black or mottled.

The head is quite wide, the muzzle is short with a swollen nasal area covered by long dark whiskers. The eyes are small and dark, while the ears they are short and dark.

The legs are short and wide: each of them has five clawed toes. The first toe of the forelimbs is very small. The tail is short, sometimes it is difficult to see it because it is hidden by the quills of the rump. The tail is also covered with quills, but shorter and more fragile. Some of these quills are modified: when the tail is shaken, a crackling sound is heard.

The skull is large and rounded, with smooth incisors. The molars have an occlusal surface formed by complex folds of enamel and dentin. The nasal bones are long and broad, extending caudally to almost the posterior margin of the orbit.

Weight and dimensions of the porcupine

Come size, the porcupine is quite large. The length of the head and of the body varies between 65 and 85 cm, with the length of the tail between 12 and 17 cm. The foot is 95 mm long, the ears 40 mm and the weight reaches 20 kg. For this reason it is considered the largest European and African rodent.

The quills of the porcupine

The hedgehog stings are formed by chitina. Unlike those of the hedgehog, they are full on the inside and come off easily. Porcupines have around 30,000 quills, while hedgehogs usually stop at 5 thousand.

The quills are present on the central dorsal part of the body and on the rump. Like color, have alternating white and black rings, usually 4-5: the tip is always white. There length of the quills it is variable, but in some cases they can even reach 30 cm on the rump.

As mentioned, many people are convinced that the porcupine, in order to defend itself from predators, is able to literally throwing the quills at great distances. In reality it is not true. The porcupine can either shake the body and wag its tail so as to dropping the quills around him (and thus at close range) or run backwards towards the predator for stab him. Since the spines detach easily, here they often get stuck in its victims causing very painful injuries (or serious damage if they pierce the eyes or chest).

Behavior and reproduction

Source: Pixabay

The hedgehog is a terricolous and nocturnal animal. However, when in captivity it is also active during the day. In nature, during the day, it tends to hide in holes or burrows abandoned by other animals: does not like to dig burrows by itself, it occupies those left free. It is unable to climb.

When he feels threatened, straighten the crest and quills, which makes it look bigger than it is. Also when it wags its tail, the quills here produce a jingle. If that doesn’t work, it moves sideways or backwards towards the attacker, charging him and leaving some quills stuck in the victim. This is his true defense mechanism.

As an animal, it is social and gregarious. Mark territory with anal gland secretions, while using vocalizations or to alert other porcupines of any dangers or during mating season.

After thecoupling, the female starts a pregnancy lasting 112 days. After giving birth 1-4 babies are born with open eyes and the presence of a prickly hair. Puppies at birth weigh 1 kg. The mother breastfeeds sitting, as the 2-3 pairs of breasts are located laterally to the chest. The males contribute to the care of the offspring by cleaning the young, recovering them if they go away and sleeping with them. The weaning occurs at 16 weeks.

What are the predators of the porcupine?

Few animals dare to challenge a porcupine’s quills. They can become the prey of owls, birds of prey, lynx and wolves. Often a victim of automobile accidents, it is true that in the past it was also hunted by man to be eaten (in some areas it is still considered a delicious food).

Feeding the porcupine

hedgehog eats
Source: Pixabay

While the hedgehog is an insectivorous animal, l’porcupine is a herbivorous animal. It tends to feed mainly on fruit, roots, bulbs and bark. He particularly loves sneaking into the gardens and eating everything that comes in front of him. He loves the potatoes sweets and peanuts.


Some small curiosity about the porcupine:

  • The porcupine does not defend itself by throwing the quills: usually runs backwards against the attacker in order to pierce him with its long quills. These detach and remain attached to the aggressor. They are not poisonous, but they can cause very painful wounds
  • You are wondering how to remove a porcupine from potatoes and from the garden? One of the non-dangerous solutions for the animal itself is to create a trench around the vegetable garden, then placing a network well buried in depth
  • How old does a porcupine live? There are conflicting data. Some argue that the average lifespan is 10-15 years. However, cases of porcupines that lived up to 27 years have been recorded
  • The porcupine does not hibernate like the hedgehog. However, in winter it tends to stay more often in the den and sleep more
  • For the IUCN Red List, given that it is extremely widespread, the H. cristata is considered a minimally endangered species
  • Some populations use it as food source
  • The porcupine is widespread in the savannah of Sudan and Guinea, in the mountainous areas of Ethiopia, in some areas of the Sahaara and Sahel, in the mountains of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, along the coasts of Libya, in some areas of Niger, in Senegal, Cameroon, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. It is probably extinct in Egypt. In Italy we find it almost everywhere, even on the island of Elba and in Sicily

What to do if you come across a porcupine?

If you happen to run into a porcupine healthy and not in conditions of danger, he simply changes direction: if he does not feel threatened, he does not attack for the pure pleasure of doing it. If it is injured, contact the Veterinary Services immediately, on Cras area o the Forestry Guards (currently incorporated into the Carabinieri): they will be able to show you the contacts to contact to get them to come and get you. Be careful not to get too close: if you feel in danger, it could shake and drop the quills even on a possible rescuer.

Source: GreenStyle by www.greenstyle.it.

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