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Porcupine Quills

2-25-19 porcupine IMG_6292Porcupines possess roughly 30,000 quills — hollow, modified hairs which are made from the same material (keratin) as feathers,claws, scales, hairs and fingernails. They cannot “shoot” their quills anymore than we can shoot our hair, but their subcutaneous muscles can cause the quills to become erect as well as loosen them so that when touched, the quills are easily released. Each quill possesses between 700 and 800 barbs along the four millimeters or so nearest its tip. It is these barbs that help a quill remain embedded in the tissue of a predator.

Researchers have found that barbed quills penetrate deeper into muscle than quills without barbs, and require half the penetration force. They have been found to be four times harder to pull out than barbless quills. It has been suggested that the barbs ease the quill’s penetration by concentrating force along the edges of the barbs, similar to how the serrations on a knife blade make cutting meat easier.

Fortunately for porcupines, their quills are covered with a natural antibiotic which protects a porcupine from infection should it be impaled by one of its own quills or one from another porcupine. (Photo: porcupine with quills from another porcupine embedded in nose)

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14 responses

  1. I love Porcupines! They are so cute the way they ‘waddle’ along. Their feet are amazing! They have very large soft pads!

    February 25, 2019 at 9:18 am

  2. Maybe good to note that the way to remove quills, from the nose of your overly curious dog, is by cutting off the free end of the quill to allow it to deflate before pulling.

    February 25, 2019 at 9:23 am

    • I’m sorry to say that your theory about cutting the end of a quill off to ease its removal is not accurate, though commonly thought to be so. Cutting the shaft makes the quill splinter more easily which ultimately makes it harder to remove. Thanks for your input, regardless!

      February 25, 2019 at 11:20 am

  3. Kathryn

    I never thought of a porcupine getting quilled! And there’s no one around to help get them out! They are lovely animals.

    February 25, 2019 at 9:53 am

  4. Libby Hillhouse

    Does that natural antibiotic in the quills also protect the dog who gets “quilled?”

    February 25, 2019 at 10:26 am

    • I would assume so, but a vet might know for sure!

      February 25, 2019 at 10:55 am

  5. Noreen Anderson

    The antibiotic on the quills only protects porcupines and not the predator?

    February 25, 2019 at 11:19 am

    • I should have stated more clearly that I believe the antibiotic is effective for any animal that has a quill embedded in it.

      February 25, 2019 at 11:22 am

  6. Alice Pratt

    Oh, that is sad, to see quills in a Porcupine’s nose 😬

    February 25, 2019 at 3:16 pm

  7. The first time my German Shepherd got quilled—with many in her face— I had to drive her to the vet for after hours removal. The next day, when she evidently ran back to the porcupne where it must have been on the ground feeding, she got quilled again, only with far fewer quills from one leg pat. I was annoyed and didn’t want to pay the big charge, so I told her firmly to sit down and she humbly allowed me to remove all them myself. (I had seen the amount of pull that was needed.) She looked unhappy and sqeaked once with each one but never moved. That was the last time she ever got quilled.

    February 25, 2019 at 8:03 pm

    • Alice Pratt

      Oooooh….pooooor pup & poor you!

      February 25, 2019 at 8:33 pm

  8. Bill on the hill

    This guy got a dose of his own medicine. No sympathy from me. Vermont’s grand idea way back when was the introduction of the fisher cat to get rid of those pesky porcupines. The fisher is one mean dude…
    For those who profess a love for porcupines be warned, they love eating brake hoses & will occasionally eat tires… They are attracted to salt, be careful where you pee. They also consume wood railings which is why mine are wrapped with heavy gauge wire mesh.
    When I see a porcupine on my property, it gets a bullet with no reservations… :~)

    February 25, 2019 at 8:44 pm

  9. Cheron barton

    Interesting!! Were U aware!??

    Sent from my iPhone


    February 26, 2019 at 11:25 am

  10. Cindy

    It’s possible one might not want to attract a porcupine to your property, but I’ve read if you have a stump you want removed, putting salt on the stump is win- win. Porcupine gets its salt and less apt to go after your tools or other salt embedded wood. Camping outhouses are a favorite target because of the salt in our urine.

    I’ve also read – maybe in this column (!) you can sometimes get rid of ground wasps by putting food scraps by it in the evening. That may attract a skunk, which eats the garbage and then digs up the wasp nest.

    Though I suppose one might not want a skunk around either. Lol. But still. Any natural, no work way to do things is something to consider. I have many porcupines. I should try the salt trick!

    February 27, 2019 at 7:21 am

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