Think of a rodent? Got one? Did you pick mice, rats, hamsters or gerbils? If so then you are right. But I wonder how many of you said porcupines. That’s right – porcupines are rodents. In fact, they’re the third largest types of rodent in the world. Only capybaras and beavers are bigger.
There are 28 different species of porcupine living in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. They all look quite similar and it can be hard to tell them apart. But what do you know about porcupines? Well, let’s find out with this list which is just prickling with porcupine facts:
- Porcupines are nocturnal. They hide during the daylight but come out at night to feast on a vegetarian diet of berries, stems, grass and tree-bark
- The name porcupine comes from Latin and means spiky pig
- They come in two groups – Old World (European, African and Asian porcupines) and New World (North and South American)
- New World porcupines can climb well and will venture into trees’ branches. Old World porcupines are not very good at climbing
- They can swim though, which is something their American cousins can’t do
- Porcupines are one of the longest-living rodents. The eldest known porcupine lived to be 27 years old
- For protection, porcupines have thousands of sharp quills. The average New World porcupine has about 30,000 of them!
- It was once thought that porcupines could shoot their quills at would-be predators. We now know that isn’t true. Instead, a threatened porcupine will swat at its attacker with its tail, hoping to pierce them with its quills
- The quills are modified hairs. They have barbed tips which make them hard to remove if you are pricked. They are also coated with an antibiotic so any wound is unlikely to become infected – how considerate!
- They live in a variety of habitats from forests to deserts, and from hillsides to mountains. Some dwell at heights of almost 4km!
- In Southeast Asia porcupines are hunted by humans for food. This has led to a decline in porcupine numbers in the Far East
- American Indians also make use of porcupines – though their quills rather than their meat. The quills are harvested by throwing a blanket over a porcupine, embedding some of the quills which can be removed from the blanket later. The porcupine is unharmed and the quills are used to decorate headdresses
Alas, we don’t get porcupines here in the UK. But we do get hedgehogs. They’re not related to porcupines but they do look a bit like miniature versions of them. If you’d like to find out about hedgehogs then take a look at this article I wrote last month – enjoy!