Facts about the animal kingdom

How do Porcupines Defend Themselves?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: April 25, 2018
How do Porcupines Defend Themselves?

The term porcupine consists of different species of rodents that belong to the suborder Hystricomorpha, together with other well-known animals such as chinchillas, capybaras or guinea pigs.

The word derives from the spines on the skin of this mammal. There are two families of porcupines according to their origin: Old World porcupines and New World porcupines. In both cases, however, porcupines are nocturnal animals that do not tolerate cold temperatures, so they stay in their nest during the winter.

If you want to learn more about this interesting family, this AnimalWised article will go over how do porcupines defend themselves, explaining all about their attack strategies when they feel threatened.

You may also be interested in: Differences Between Hedgehogs and Porcupines
  1. Characteristics of porcupine spines
  2. How do porcupines defend themselves?
  3. How do porcupines attack?

Characteristics of porcupine spines

Porcupine spines are of great importance in these animals' defense and attack methods. Their spines are actually modified hairs that have been hardened and covered with thick plates of keratin and embedded in the musculature over millennia of evolution.

It has always been believed that porcupines can shoot out their spines, but this is not true. However, porcupines can release their spines by contact or by shaping.

An important feature of these spines, called "quills" is that when they are released they can very easily penetrate the skin of another animal. They get stuck easily, but they are notably very difficult to remove. Can you guess why?

A group of scientists studied this phenomenon and found that the tip of each quill has a tiny rear-facing spike, meaning that the quills easily penetrate the surface but are hard to remove because of their hook shape.

How do Porcupines Defend Themselves? - Characteristics of porcupine spines

How do porcupines defend themselves?

When a porcupine feels threatened, it coils up on its belly and lets its quills bristle and protrude outwards. This is indeed a porcupine's best defense mechanism - when the spines penetrate the skin of another animal they are not only very painful. As the animal pulls to remove the quill, the wound can easily cause all sorts of infections.

In addition, when the porcupine adopts this position, it also moves its body and shakes it purposefully, allowing the quills to rattle against each other and making a menacing metallic sound. Most predators think twice before attacking a bristling porcupine!

How do Porcupines Defend Themselves? - How do porcupines defend themselves?

How do porcupines attack?

As you have seen above, the belief that porcupines can shoot out their spines is false. Their quills can indeed be released, but through other mechanisms, such as contact.

When the porcupine does attack, it moves its tail to hit its quills against the predator. They are not poisonous, but they still pose a danger of infecting the wounded tissue.

How do Porcupines Defend Themselves? - How do porcupines attack?

If you want to read similar articles to How do Porcupines Defend Themselves?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

Write a comment
Add an image
Click to attach a photo related to your comment
What did you think of this article?
1 comment
Jennifer Amy-Dressler
I have read elsewhere that porcupines forage tree bark and spruce needles in winter, leaving their den (no nest, just a sheltered spot). I have seen signs of their feeding in winter under spruce trees. So are you referring to porcupines in Eurasia, perhaps?
1 of 4
How do Porcupines Defend Themselves?