Wild Profile: Meet the porcupine

Updated: April 3, 2019

By David Newbold/Shutterstock

Q: What sound does a porcupine make? A: Many different sounds! Porkies can grunt, hiss, mumble, whine, wail, and chatter their teeth. But cottagers are more likely to hear them gnawing (it’s noisy) on whatever catches their fancy: leather, bone, shed antlers, and all kinds of wooden items, especially if they taste like salt from human sweat (wood-handled tools, canoe paddles) or preservatives (plywood).

Porcupines are born—usually only one in a litter—between March and May. They’re hefty at birth: they weigh 490 grams, which is roughly the same as a newborn bear cub. Their initially soft quills harden within an hour. The quills are attached to a layer of muscle, so a porcupine can raise and lower them. They can’t shoot them—that’s a myth.

Porcupines can, however, swing their tails in defence, and the 10-cm-long quills detach easily and (unfortunately) embed securely into the flesh of a victim. This is thanks to fish-hook-like barbs, which also allow the quills to “migrate” into the tissue, at a speed of about one millimetre per hour. Youch!

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