The African continent’s largest rodents, the porcupines, also known as quill pigs, are creatures with over 30 000 long needle-like quills on their back, sides and tail. These animals are active mostly during the night and they make a grunting noise when looking for food. The porcupines have several distinctive characteristics, namely:
- The term “porcupine” means: “the one that rises in anger.” These nocturnal species is hard to find during the day, as this is the time wneh they prefer to sleep. Also known as master-climbers, the porcupines have strong legs, cruved claws and flat paws, which are all very useful in climbing trees. Some of them can even use their strong tails for this purpose.
- Porcupines do not hibernate. They prefer to dwell in shaded places, like forests, hills, grasslands and desserts. They usually pick a cave, a tree or a snowbank where they hide from predators. Their homes are called dens.
- Porcupines are herbivores, which means they do not eat meat and feed mainly on leaves, thistles, weeds, the bark of tress, pine needles, etc. They use their sharp, strong teeth to chew through the hard wood and the seeds; they use their long incisors to peel off the bark of trees.
- Porcupines are renowned for the thick, rigid quills that cover their entire body, except for their face and the underside of the tail. The quills protect them from predators like: coyotes, dogs, bears, foxes and even humans. The quills that have lost their protective quality are soon replaced by new ones. Even though porcupines are not aggressive animals, you should stay away from them because the injury caused by their quills is very painful and in extreme cases, it might even be fatal.
- Their mating season starts in late summer and early autumn. Their babies are born with soft quills that harden in a few hours. In about six months, after they have learned to survive on their own, they are ready to leave their mother’s side.
- There are two main groups of porcupines: Old World porcupines that live manily under ground, in long, low galleries and New World porcupines that are tree climbers. Common porcupines can be found in North America, from the forest areas of Alaska to Mexico.
- In the past, Native Americans used the porcupines’ quills to decorate clothes and mocassins or as hairpins. The porcupines were an important source of food as well.
Today, some people believe the porcupines to be dangerous animals, but in reality, these shy beings can be very useful to other living creatures. Feeding mostly on common tree species, they ensure a better natural lighting in thick woods by chewing off leaves from the trees’ foliage. Sometime they may tumble down from trees, because their sight is not very good.