Africa’s largest rodents, porcupines, are also known as ‘Quill Pigs’. They are prickly creatures, each one with more than 30,000 needle-like quills on their back, sides and tail. While searching for food they make grunting sounds and are most active during the night. Now let’s learn some more interesting facts about this amazing creature!
1. The name porcupine means ‘one who rises up in anger’. These nocturnal species are difficult to find in the daytime as they love to sleep during the day. Known as master-climbers, porcupines have strong feet, curved claws and flat paws for climbing trees. Some also use their strong tail to climb trees.
2. Porcupines do not hibernate. They prefer to live in shady places such as forests, hillsides, grasslands and deserts. They prefer to choose a cave, tree, or snow banks that are safe from predators. Their homes are called dens.
3. Being herbivores, porcupines do not eat meat and feed mostly on leaves, pine-needles, herbs, twigs and the thin bark of trees. They use their sharp and strong teeth to chew through tough wood and seeds. Their long incisors are used to tear into bark.
4. Porcupines are famous for the stiff, thick quills which cover their body, except for their face and tail. They protect them against predators such as coyotes, dogs, bears, foxes and even humans. Quills lost in self defense are soon replaced by new ones. Though porcupines are not aggressive animals, it is better to stay away, as being pierced by these quills is painful and could even result in death in extreme cases.
5. The end of summer or early fall is the mating season for porcupines. Babies known as porcupettes are born with soft quills, which get hard within hours. In about six months the baby gets ready to leave their mother after they learn how to survive.
6. There are two main groups of porcupines: Old World porcupines are mainly ground-dwelling animals while New World porcupines are those which can climb trees. The common porcupine is also known as the North American porcupine, which is found in wooded regions from Alaska to Mexico.
7. In the past, Native Americans used quills to decorate clothing, moccasins, headdresses, birch bark boxes and pouches. The animal was also an important source of food.
Today, some people consider porcupines to be pests, but in reality these shy creatures are very helpful to other animals. By feeding mostly on common tree species and nibbling on treetop leaves, they bring more sunlight to dense forests. They may not see well and often tumble out of trees – but we still have much to learn about this spiky creature!