10 Strange facts about porcupines


They’re unlikely to be helpful at your next quiz night, but could come handy during campfire chat on your next safari

1. The word ‘porcupine’ means ‘quill pig’ in Latin. However, porcupines have no relation to pigs: they are in fact a large rodent.

2. Porcupines can adapt to most habitats including dense wet forests and the most barren of deserts. They have even been found as high as 11,480ft, on Kilimanjaro.

3. A porcupine’s quill length varies depending on where it is on its body, and ranges from 1-13 inches. When threatened the quills stand erect, and scales on the tips lodge into the skin like fishhooks. Each quill has between 500 and 800 microscopic hooks along its tip.

4. The porcupine gives off a warning when alarmed – although it could be mistaken for a strange dance. It will stamp its feet, click its teeth, growl and rattle its quills to warn the enemy away. If persisted, it will ram the attacker, running into it backwards. This is because the quills on its back are longer and more effective in an attack.

5. Porcupine quills have long been a favourite ornament and good-luck charm in Africa. They are hollow and were once used as containers for gold dust.

6. A porcupine has approximately 30,000 quills on its body.

7. Each quill has a topical antibiotic, so an attack will not necessarily lead to infection. This is an unusual feature considering their quills are their only defence mechanism, but it is thought to be to prevent infection from accidental self-quilling.

8. Porcupines gnaw bone to get minerals, like salt and calcium, and to sharpen their powerful incisors.

9. The largest porcupine is the crested porcupine, found in North Africa, which grows up to 36 inches long.

10. The collective noun for a mother porcupine and her young is a ‘prickle’. Baby porcupines are called ‘porcupettes’.