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13 Porcupine Facts About These Prickly Rodents

Porcupines rank among the largest rodents on Earth. One of their most distinctive features is their modified hair, or quills, which they use for self-defense.

One interesting fact about porcupines is that an individual porcupine has around 30,000 sharp quills. However, it's a common misconception that these rodents can hurl their quills at predators, a point we'll address as we explore more porcupine facts.

Want to learn more about rodents? Discover fascinating facts about the capybara, the largest rodent in the world. And make sure to check out our hedgehog facts, featuring another spiky creature from a different family.

Summary: Essential Porcupine Facts

Porcupine Profile
Scientific name:Hystricomorpha (Porcupines belong to this suborder)
Classification:Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Rodentia, Family: Hystricidae for Old World, Erethizontidae for New World, Genera: Various including Hystrix, Erethizon
Subspecies:Numerous subspecies across 2 primary types: Old World and New World porcupines
Physical Characteristics
Size:Varies between 25-36 in (63-91 cm) in length
Weight:Ranges from 12-35 lbs (5.4-15.8 kg)
Distinctive Characteristics:Sharp quills for defense, stout body, small head, short legs
Habitat and Range
Habitat:From forests, deserts to grasslands depending on species
Range:Both the Old World porcupines and New World porcupines are spread over Europe, Asia, Africa and Americas
Conservation Status
Status:Mostly "Least Concern" though some specific species may be under threat
Threats:Habitat destruction, hunting, and roadkill
Initiatives:Various conservation initiatives undertaken globally, specific to the regions they inhabit

Porcupine Q&A

These Are Some of the Most Common Questions People Ask About Porcupines with Answers:

  • Are porcupines nocturnal? - Yes, most porcupines are nocturnal and are most active during the night.
  • Can porcupines shoot their quills? - No, it's a myth. Porcupines can't actually shoot their quills, but they can release them on contact or if the quills are touched.
  • What do porcupines eat? - Porcupines are primarily herbivorous. They eat leaves, twigs, stem, fruits, and bark. However, they can sometimes also consume insects.
  • Can porcupines climb trees? - Yes, many species of New World Porcupines are excellent climbers and spend a lot of their time in trees.
  • Do porcupines have a special method of communication? - Yes, in terms of communication, porcupines are known to produce a variety of sounds including whines, grunts, coughs, wails and shrieks.
  • How long does a porcupine live? - On average, porcupines live for about 5-7 years in the wild, but they can live up to 20 years in captivity.
  • How do porcupines defend themselves? - Porcupines use their distinctive quills as a primary form of self-defense. When threatened, they direct their quills outward to appear larger and more intimidating.
  • Do porcupines have any predators? - Yes, despite their sharp quills, porcupines have predators. These include foxes, wolves, cougars, and owls. However, their quills make them a difficult prey.

13 Detailed Porcupine Facts That Will Amaze You

prickly rodent on grass
Photo by Anca Silvia Orosz on Pexels.

1. There are two groups of porcupines: the new and old-world porcupines.

The first stop in our porcupine facts is the major groups of porcupines. There are two main groups of porcupines: New World and Old World species. New World porcupines are found in North and South America, while Old World porcupines are in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

New World Porcupines, like the North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum), Brazilian porcupines (Coendou prehensilis), and the Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine (Coendou mexicanus), have long, barbed quills that protect them from predators. These quills detach when touched, helping the porcupines escape danger.

Old World porcupines, such as the crested porcupine, have quills that rattle and shake to create a loud warning sound. They live on the ground in forests, grasslands, deserts, and mountains.

Read more: Types of Porcupines.

2. Porcupine quills are their armor.

porcupine on dried leaves
Photo by JimmyDominico on PIxabay

Also named the "Quill Pig," porcupines sport a unique look in the animal kingdom with their spiky armor. Those spikes might be part of their fur. However, they are modified hairs transformed into sharp, needle-like quills. Our hair and nails are made of a protein called keratin, and porcupines use the same stuff to build their quills3.

Moreover, the hollow quills don't just poke the predator; they embed themselves in the intruder's skin. Once they get stuck in a predator's hide, the barbed tips of the quills are a devil to remove—it's like getting a splinter that keeps on hurting. This prickly defense mechanism gives porcupines an edge in the wild.

Fun Fact: A porcupine can boast over 30,000 quills!

3. They are nocturnal foragers.

Porcupines are nocturnal creatures. They are active in the early evening and before dawn. Their excellent night vision and sharp senses of smell and hearing make them well-equipped for this lifestyle.

During their nighttime escapades, porcupines can cover long distances for food. They primarily feast on plant matter, including leaves, bark, and fruits. Even in winter, when food is scarce, and the world is cold, porcupines persist.

4. Porcupines are slow.

prickly rodent during daytime
Photo by brigachtal on Pixabay

Porcupines are slow-moving rodents that belong to the Rodentia order. They have a cautious and deliberate pace compared to other rodents. They are also skilled climbers, spending significant time in tree branches1.

The largest porcupines belong to the family Erethizontidae. The North American porcupine is the biggest species, measuring up to 33 inches in length and weighing 11 to 35 pounds.

Old World porcupines, from the family Hystricidae, are the second largest rodents. The crested porcupine is one of the largest species in this family, growing up to 28 inches long and weighing between 22 to 66 pounds. Africa's crested porcupine, with its quills reaching up to 14 inches long, is enough to deter even the most determined of predators.

4. They live in diverse habitats.

Porcupines live in various habitats, such as forests, woodlands, grasslands, deserts, and even rocky areas. They can adapt to different environments with enough vegetation to feed on and suitable shelter to stay protected.

Porcupines are commonly found in both temperate and tropical forests. They are well-suited for arboreal life, with their sharp claws and prehensile tails enabling them to climb tree bark and move through trees.

Porcupines also inhabit hollow trees or rocky areas such as mountains and cliffs. They take advantage of crevices and caves in rocky terrain for shelter and protection.

5. They are herbivores.

Porcupines are primarily herbivorous animals2, meaning they have a plant-based diet. They feed on various plant materials, including bark, twigs, leaves, buds, fruits, and roots.

Porcupines have a seasonal diet. During winter, they mainly eat evergreen needles and the inner bark of trees, sometimes causing damage or even killing the tree by feeding heavily on it. In spring and summer, most porcupines will switch to eating berries, seeds, grasses, leaves, roots, and stems.

6. Baby porcupines are called porcupettes.

Baby porcupines, known as porcupettes, are undeniably adorable. Porcupettes are born with soft, fuzzy coats that lack adult porcupines' sharp quills. They are born with soft quills that harden after a few days.

Porcupettes are relatively small at birth, weighing around 300 to 400 grams (10 to 14 ounces). They are about the size of a small puppy or kitten. However, they grow quickly and can reach adulthood within a year or two.

As porcupettes grow older, they become more independent and explore their surroundings. They learn to climb trees, forage for food, and develop their instincts for survival.

7. Porcupines don't reproduce that often.

porcupine near rocks
Photo by Alexas_Fotos on PIixabay

During the mating season, male porcupines compete for female attention through vocalizations, scent marking, and physical interactions. After courtship, mating occurs, with the male positioning himself behind the female and inserting his penis into her reproductive tract.

However, porcupines have a relatively long gestation period of 90 to 112 days, which is relatively long for the rodent family. They may not even reproduce every year. Female porcupines usually give birth to one to three babies.

8. They are inherently curious.

Porcupines are naturally curious animals and often display investigative behavior towards their environment. They may explore their surroundings by sniffing, touching, and tasting objects or areas of interest.

Porcupines are curious creatures that explore their surroundings to find food and shelter. They use their strong claws and prehensile tails to climb trees, allowing them to access various food sources and expand their exploration range.

9. They are symbols of wisdom, patience, and self-defense.

Porcupines are naturally curious animals and often display investigative behavior towards their environment. They may explore their surroundings by sniffing, touching, and tasting objects or areas of interest.

Porcupines are curious creatures that explore their surroundings to find food and shelter. They use their strong claws and prehensile tails to climb trees, allowing them to access various food sources and expand their exploration range.

10. They can produce various warning signals.

prickly rodent with flower
Photo by Atlabar on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (Cropped from original)

Porcupines have effective warning signals to communicate their defensive state and deter threats. One notable signal is the display of their raised quills, which makes them appear larger and more intimidating when feeling threatened or alarmed.

In addition to raised quills, porcupines use vocalizations as warning signals. These can include growls, hisses, or high-pitched screams. By making these sounds, they try to scare away predators or alert nearby individuals of potential danger.

While larger predators like cougars, wolves, and bears are known porcupine predators, smaller predators such as fishers, bobcats, and coyotes may also prey on them. However, the protective nature of their quills often deters many potential attackers from attempting an attack.

11. Their quills have antibiotic properties.

Another interesting fact about porcupines is that they can heal themselves by using their quills. When a porcupine happens to fall from a tree and get injured by its quills, this creature can self-heal. Antibiotics cover porcupine quills. These antibiotics aid in healing the skin impaled by the quills. This unique attribute allows porcupines to protect themselves from potential harm and promotes the healing of their self-inflicted wounds.

12. They can live up to 20 years or more.

porcupine walking
Photo by Horst Joachims on Pexels

Porcupines have relatively long life spans compared to many other rodents. On average, they can live up to 5 to 7 years in the wild, although some individuals have been known to live even longer. The exact lifespan can vary depending on species, habitat conditions, and availability of food resources.

In captivity, where they receive optimal nutrition and medical care, porcupines may have a slightly longer lifespan. An adult porcupine can live up to 20 years or more under these conditions.

13. Their populations are declining.

porcupine near plants
Photo by CalTravelForAll on Pixabay

Porcupine populations have declined for the past years. They face risks like habitat damage, habitat loss due to human activities, climate change, and unsustainable hunting.

Other porcupine species have stable populations and are not at high risk of disappearing. We still need to monitor them to make sure they accept.

Conservation organizations consider the tailed porcupine a species of least concern, meaning it is not currently at high risk of extinction. However, it still requires ongoing monitoring to maintain stable populations and address potential threats.

We hope you enjoyed this list of interesting facts about porcupines!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with P.


John W. Pokallus , Jonathan N. Pauli (2016). Predation shapes the movement of a well-defended species, the North American porcupine, even when nutritionally stressed. Behavioral Ecology, 27(2), 470–475.




Roze, U. (2012). Porcupines: The animal answer guide. ResearchGate.

By Chinny Verana, BSc.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Potawatomi Zoo on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (Cropped from original)
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