AskDefine | Define porcupine

Dictionary Definition

porcupine n : relatively large rodents with sharp erectile bristles mingled with the fur [syn: hedgehog]

User Contributed Dictionary



Literally spiny-pig, from porcus, + spinus.


  1. A large rodent with long quills that stand straight up when it is attacked or surprised.

Related terms


large rodent

Extensive Definition

Porcupines are rodents with a coat of sharp spines, or quills, that defend them from predators. They are endemic in both the Old World and the New World. After the capybara and the beaver, Porcupines are the third largest of the rodents. Most porcupines are about 25-36 inches (60-90 cm) long, with an 8-10 inch (20-25 cm) long tail. Weighing between 12-35 pounds (5-16 kg), they are rounded, large and slow. Porcupines come in various shades of brown, grey, and the unusual white. The name "porcupine" comes from Middle French porc d'épine "thorny pig". Porcupines' spiny protection resembles that of the distantly related Erinaceomorph hedgehogs and more distantly related Monotreme Echidnas.


A porcupine is any of 27 species of rodent belonging to the families Erethizontidae or Hystricidae. All defend themselves with hair modified into sharp spines.
Porcupines vary in size considerably: Rothschild's Porcupine of South America weighs less than a kilogram (20); the African Porcupine can grow to well over 20 kg (440).
The two families of porcupines are quite different and although both belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, they are not closely related..
The eleven Old World porcupines are almost exclusively terrestrial, tend to be fairly large, and have quills that are grouped in clusters. They separated from the other hystricognaths about 30 million years ago, much earlier than the New World porcupines. The twelve New World porcupines are mostly smaller (although the North American Porcupine reaches about in length and ), have their quills attached singly rather than grouped in clusters, and are excellent climbers, spending much of their time in trees. The New World porcupines evolved their spines independently (through convergent evolution) and are more closely related to several other families of rodent than they are to the Old World porcupines.


Salt licks

Porcupines in search of salt sometimes encroach on human habitats, eating plywood cured with sodium nitrate, certain paints, and tool handles, footwear, clothes and other items that have been coated in salty sweat. Porcupines are attracted to roads in areas where rock salt is used to melt ice and snow, and are known to gnaw on vehicle tires or wiring coated in road salt. Salt licks placed nearby can prevent porcupines from injuring themselves.
Natural sources of salt consumed by porcupines include varieties of salt-rich plants (such as yellow water lily and aquatic liverwort), fresh animal bones, outer tree bark, mud in salt-rich soils, and objects impregnated with urine.

Porcupines as food

In parts of Africa and Europe, porcupines are eaten as a form of bushmeat. Porcupine meat is also appreciated in some regions of Italy and Vietnam.

Etymology and Mythology

  • The name "porcupine" comes from Middle French porc d'épine which could be translated as "thorny", "spined", or "quilled" "pork" or "pig", hence the nickname "quill pig" for the animal. A group of porcupines is called a "prickle".
  • From ancient times it was believed that porcupines can throw their quills at an enemy. This has long been refuted, being the result of loose quills being shaken free.
Order Rodentia
porcupine in Catalan: Porc espí
porcupine in German: Stachelschwein
porcupine in Spanish: Puerco espín
porcupine in Esperanto: Histriko
porcupine in Persian: تشی
porcupine in French: Porc-épic
porcupine in Ido: Porkespino
porcupine in Hebrew: דרבן (מכרסם)
porcupine in Malay (macrolanguage): Landak
porcupine in Dutch: Stekelvarkens
porcupine in Japanese: ヤマアラシ
porcupine in Norwegian: Hulepinnsvin
porcupine in Portuguese: Porco espinho
porcupine in Finnish: Piikkisika
porcupine in Swedish: Piggsvin
porcupine in Thai: เม่น
porcupine in Turkish: Kirpi
porcupine in Contenese: 豪豬
porcupine in Chinese: 豪豬

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Cape polecat, ape, bar, bear, cavy, chimp, chimpanzee, coon, ferret, foumart, glutton, groundhog, guinea pig, hedgehog, monk, monkey, mousehound, opossum, polecat, possum, prairie dog, quill pig, raccoon, skunk, weasel, whistle-pig, wolverine, woodchuck, zoril
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