Do Porcupines Shoot Their Quills Out?

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Porcupines are covered in protective quills.
Porcupines are covered in protective quills. (Image: Schwein image by Petra Kohlstädt from Fotolia.com)

Porcupines are rodents most famous for the full coat of quills which cover the majority of their body. Although porcupines are not capable of shooting their quills out of their body, as many people falsely believe, the quills still play a very important role in the porcupine's defense against potential threats.

Quill Characteristics

Porcupine quills are stiff hairs, with a varying make-up along its length. The tips of the quills are solid, and feature small barbs which come out as a result of heat, allowing them to stick in an attacker. The base of the quills have more give than the tips, as they are hollow.

Quills as Defense

When a porcupine feels threatened, using its quills can dissuade an attacker from further pursuit. The porcupine causes its quills to stand on end, then lashes out if the attacker comes closer, using its tail to strike at any exposed areas. When the quills make contact with the attacker they break free of the porcupine, remaining lodged in the attacker.

Quill Placement

A full-grown porcupine's body is covered by as many as 30,000 quills. The quills cover the majority of the porcupine's body that is exposed when it's walking; areas around the face and paws of the porcupine are the only areas left uncovered.

Quill Removal

Pets can fall victim to porcupines, particularly dogs whose inquisitive nature can lead to a face full of quills. In extreme cases, where many quills are embedded, professional help may be needed; however, if only a few quills are embedded they can be removed at home with a firm grip of the quill near the skin with pliers. If the quills are somewhere other than the jaw, it often helps to muzzle the dog as the process is very painful and can irritate the dog.

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