Animal World


How many quills does a porcupine have?

For its defensive weapon, the average North American porcupine has about 30,000 quills or specialized hairs, comparable in hardness and flexibility to slivers of celluloid and so sharply pointed that they can penetrate any hide. The quills that do the most damage are the short ones that stud the porcupine’s muscular tail. With a few lashes, the porcupine can send a rain of quills that have tiny scalelike barbs into the skin of its adversary. The quills work their way inward because of their barbs and the involuntary muscular action of the victim. Sometimes the quills can work themselves out, but other times the quills pierce vital organs, and the victim dies.

Slow-footed and stocky, porcupines spend much of their time in the trees, using their formidable incisors to strip off bark and foliage for their food, and supplement their diets with fruits and grasses. Porcupines have a ravenous appetite for salt; as herbivores (plant-eating animals), their diets have insufficient salt. So natural salt licks, animal bones left by carnivores (meat-eating animals), yellow pond lilies, and other items having a high salt content (including paints, plywood adhesives, and human clothing that bears traces of sweat) have a strong appeal to porcupines.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Science Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App