|Porcupines are rodents with a coat of sharp spines, or quills, that defend them from predators. The porcupines include the third largest rodent, after the capybara, and beaver, and are not to be confused with hedgehogs which are Erinaceomorphs. Most porcupines are about 25-36 inches (60-90 cm) long, with a 8-10 inch (20-25 cm) long tail. Weighing between 12-35 pounds (5-16 kg), they are rounded, large and slow. Porcupines come in various shades of brown, grey, and the unusual white. The name "porcupine" comes from Middle French porc d'Úpine "thorny pork", hence the nickname "quill pig" for the animal.|
The animal's quills or spines take on various forms, depending on the species, but all are modified hairs coated with thick plates of keratin, and they are embedded in the skin musculature. Old World porcupines (Hystricidae) have quills embedded in clusters, whereas in New World porcupines (Erethizontidae) single quills are interspersed with bristles, under fur, and hair.
Contrary to popular belief, porcupines are not capable of throwing their quills, but they detach very easily and will remain embedded in an attacker. Porcupine quills are as sharp as needles. Unlike needles, however, the quills of New World porcupines have microscopic, backwards-facing barbs on the tip that catch on the skin making them difficult and painful to extract. Quills are about 75 mm long and 2 mm wide. If a quill becomes lodged in the tissues of a would-be attacker, the barbs act to pull the quill further into the tissues with the normal muscle movements of the attacker, moving up to several millimeters in a day. Predators have been known to die as a result of quill penetration and infection. Quills are still capable of penetrating animals and humans even after death.
In parts of Africa and Arabia, porcupines are eaten as a form of bush meat. Porcupine meat is also appreciated in some regions of Italy and Vietnam.
Porcupines occupy a wide range of habitats in tropical and temperate parts of Asia, Italy, Africa and the Americas. Porcupines live in forests, deserts and grasslands. Some live in trees, others stay on the ground.
Porcupines in search of salt sometimes encroach on human habitats, eating plywood cured with sodium nitrate, certain paints, and tool handles, footwear, clothes and other items that have been coated in salty sweat. Porcupines are attracted to roads in areas where rock salt is used to melt ice and snow, and are known to gnaw on vehicle tires or wiring coated in road salt. Salt licks placed nearby can prevent porcupine damage.
Natural sources of salt consumed by porcupines include varieties of salt-rich plants (such as yellow water lily and aquatic liverwort), fresh animal bones, outer tree bark, mud in salt-rich soils, and objects impregnated with urine.
A porcupine is any of 27 species of rodent belonging to the families Erethizontidae or Hystricidae. All defend themselves with sharp spines actually modified hairs rather like those of the hedgehogs (which are part of the order Erinaceomorpha and more closely related to shrews and moles than they are to the rodents) and the echidnas, which as monotremes are very distantly related indeed.
Porcupines vary in size considerably: Rothschild's Porcupine of South America weighs less than a kilogram; the African Porcupine can grow to well over 20 kg.
The two families of porcupines are quite different and although both belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, they are not closely related.
The eleven Old World porcupines are almost exclusively terrestrial, tend to be fairly large, and have quills that are grouped in clusters. They separated from the other hystricognaths about 30 million years ago, much earlier than the New World porcupines.
The twelve New World porcupines are mostly smaller (although the North American Porcupine reaches about 85 cm in length and 18 kilograms), have their quills attached singly rather than grouped in clusters, and are excellent climbers, spending much of their time in trees. The New World porcupines evolved their spines independently (through convergent evolution) and are more closely related to several other families of rodent than they are to the Old World porcupines.
Old World porcupine
The Old World porcupines are large representatives of the terrestrial rodent mammals, distinguished by their spiny covering from which they take their name. They range over the south of Europe, the whole of Africa, India and the Malay Archipelago as far east as Borneo. Although both the Old World and New World porcupine families belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, they are quite different and are not closely related.
The European Porcupine (Hystrix cristata) is the typical representative of a family of Old World rodents, the Hystricidae, all the members of which have the same protective covering. These rodents are characterized by the imperfectly rooted cheek-teeth, imperfect clavicles or collar-bones, cleft upper lip, rudimentary first front-toes, smooth soles, six teats and many cranial characters.
They are all stout, heavily-built animals, with blunt rounded heads, fleshy mobile snouts, and coats of thick cylindrical or flattened spines, which form the whole covering of their body, and are not intermingled with ordinary hairs. Their habits are strictly terrestrial.
Of the three genera, Hystrix is characterized by the inflated skull, in which the nasal chamber is often considerably larger than the brain-case, and the short tail, tipped with numerous slender-stalked open quills, which make a loud rattling noise whenever the animal moves.
The European Porcupine (H. cristata), which occurs throughout the south of Europe and North and West Africa, is replaced in South Africa by African Crested Porcupine, H. africaeaustralis and in India by the Malayan Porcupine (H. leucura).
Besides these large crested species, there are several smaller species without crests in north-east India, and the Malay region from Nepal to Borneo.
The genus Atherurus includes the brush-tailed porcupines which are much smaller animals, with long tails tipped with bundles of flattened spines. Two species are found in the Malay region and one in Central and West Africa. The latter species, Atherurus africanus, is often hunted for its meat.
Trichys, the last genus, contains one species, Trichys fasciculata of Borneo. This species is externally very similar to Atherurus, but differing from the members of that genus in many cranial characteristics.
New World porcupine
The New World porcupines are large arboreal rodents, distinguished by their spiny covering from which they take their name. They are all stout animals, with blunt rounded heads, fleshy mobile snouts, and coats of thick cylindrical or flattened spines ("quills"). Although both the New World and Old World porcupine families belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, they are quite different and are not closely related.
The porcupines are represented in the New World by the members of the family Erethizontidae, which have rooted molars, complete collar-bones, entire upper lips, tuberculated soles, no trace of a first front-toe, and four teats. The spines are mixed with long soft hairs.
They are less strictly nocturnal than Old World species in their habits, and some types live entirely in trees while others have dens on the ground. Their long and powerful prehensile tails help them balance when they are in the tree tops. Their diet consists minly of bark, leaves and conifer needles but can also include roots, stm, berries, fruits, seeds, nuts, grasses and flowers. Some species also eatinsects and small reptiles.
They include three genera, of which the frst is represented by the Canadian Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), a stout heavily built animal, with long hairs almost or quite hiding its spines,four front- and five hind-toes, and a short, stumpy tail. It is a native f the greater part of Canada and the United States, wherever there is any remnant of the original forest left.
The tree porcupines (Coendou, Sphiggurus, and Echinoprocta) contain 15 species. They are found throughout tropical South America, with two extending into Mexico. They are of a lighter build than the ground porcupines, with short, close, many-colored spines, often mixed with hairs, and prehensile tails. The hind-feet have only four toes, owing to the suppression of the first, in place of which they have a fleshy pad on the inner side of the foot; between this pad and the toes, branches and other objects can be firmly grasped as with a hand.
Genus Chaetomys, distinguished by the shape of its skull and the greater complexity of its teeth, contains C. subspinosus, a native of the hottest parts of Brazil. This animal is often considered a member of the Echimyidae on the basis of its premolar.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Rodentia
- Suborder: Hystricomorpha
- Family Erethizontidae
- Family Hystricidae
- Suborder Hystricomorpha
- Infraorder Hystricognathi
- Family Hystricidae: Old World porcupines
- African Brush-tailed Porcupine, Atherurus africanus
- Asiatic Brush-tailed Porcupine, Atherurus macrourus
- African Porcupine, Hystrix cristata
- Cape Porcupine, Hystrix africaeaustralis
- Himalayan Porcupine, Hystrix hodgsoni
- Indian Porcupine, Hystrix indicus
- Malayan Porcupine, Hystrix brachyura
- Sunda Porcupine, Hystrix javanica
- Bornean Porcupine, Thecurus crassispinis
- Philippine Porcupine, Thecurus pumilis
- Sumatran Porcupine, Thecurus sumatrae
- Long-tailed Porcupine, Trichys fasciculata
- Family Thryonomyidae: cane rats
- Family Petromuridae: Dassie Rat
- Family Bathyergidae: African mole-rats
- Family Hydrochaeridae: capybara
- Family Caviidae: cavies
- Family Dasyproctidae: agoutis and acouchis
- Family Erethizontidae: New World porcupines
- Brazilian Porcupine, Coendou prehensilis
- Bicolor-spined Porcupine, Coendou bicolor
- Koopman's Porcupine, Coendou koopmani
- Rothschild's Porcupine, Coendou rothschildi
- Mexican Tree Porcupine, Sphiggurus mexicanus
- South American Tree Porcupine, Sphiggurus spinosus
- Bahia Hairy Dwarf Porcupine, Sphiggurus insidiosus
- Pallid Hairy Dwarf Porcupine, Sphiggurus pallidus (extinct)
- Brown Hairy Dwarf Porcupine, Sphiggurus vestitus
- Orange-spined Hairy Dwarf Porcupine, Sphiggurus villosus
- North American Porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum
- Stump-tailed Porcupine, Echinoprocta rufescens
- Bristle-spined Porcupine, Chaetomys subspinosus (sometimes considered an echymid)
- Family Chinchillidae: chinchillas and allies
- Family Ctenomyidae: tuco-tucos
- Family Myocastoridae: Coypu
- Family Octodontidae: octodonts
- Family Ctenodactylidae: gundis