What's the big deal? Why don't you want to hug the adorable little porcupine? Oh yeah…we almost forgot. They're covered in sharp quills!
Chances are that much of your knowledge of porcupines may have come from old cartoons on television. Porcupines are popular cartoon characters because of their quills. You might have even seen a cartoon porcupine aim and shoot his quills at another animal.
The cartoon version of the porcupine, however, is a far cry from the reality. In real life, porcupines cannot aim and shoot their quills at another animal or a human being. That doesn't mean they can't be dangerous, though!
The prickliest of all rodent species, the porcupine's Latin name means “quill pig." There are over two dozen different types of porcupines, but they all have coats covered in sharp quills that help protect them from predators. The quills are modified hairs made of keratin, which is the same material that your hair and fingernails are made from.
The quills are like tiny needles with sharp tips and barbs on the ends. Their design allows them to pierce a predator's skin easily, but the barbs on the ends make them difficult to remove. Getting rid of quills can be a painful and difficult process. Predators usually learn an important lesson from their first encounter with a porcupine!
The only species of porcupine that lives in the United States is the North American porcupine. It's the largest of all porcupines and can have more than 30,000 quills on its body! North American porcupines love to eat wood, including tree bark. They also eat fruit and leaves. Since they're good climbers, they tend to spend a lot of time in trees.
Being a larger animal, though, they also tend to fall out of trees regularly. What happens when a porcupine falls out of a tree? You guessed it. It sticks itself with its own quills! Although they're designed to deter predators, porcupine quills stick porcupines themselves more often than other animals!
Luckily, porcupine quills have another feature that prevents them from being a deadly nuisance. Each quill has a greasy coating that contains an antibiotic material. This protects the porcupine from developing infections when it accidentally sticks itself!