Thorny Pigs

by on ; last featured October 9, 2011

Porcupine means “thorny pig,” but they’re actually rodents. When it comes to God-given defenses, they are unique. Just take a look at Prickles, Dan Breeding’s African crested porcupine. But don’t get too close.

“Does it really shoot its quills?”

I get asked this question more than any other when I bring out Prickles the porcupine at my presentations.

“She might, if you look her in her eyes,” I joke with the audience.

Then I quickly add, “No, porcupines only shoot quills in cartoons.”

The porcupine has more than its fair share of myths and misconceptions. With Prickles, an African crested porcupine, I like to dispel some of those myths. But more importantly, I point out how God gave her special abilities to defend herself in a fallen world.

Don’t Shoot!

Although they look a bit like hedgehogs and spiny anteaters (echidnas), porcupines (the name means “thorny pig”) are actually rodents. In other words, they’re similar to beavers, guinea pigs, and your pet hamster.

Contrary to popular belief, porcupines do not shoot their quills. After several warnings porcupines will charge their foes rear-first, usually leaving a quill or two embedded in their attackers.

Before Adam sinned, all animals were vegetarian (Genesis 1:30). So rodents did not need to defend themselves. But now the earth is cursed, and rodents need special defenses to survive.

The porcupine’s most distinctive feature is its quill, and the African crested porcupine has an especially grand (and even beautiful) display.

Quills are similar to hairs, but much thicker and harder. They grow from follicles deep in the muscle, which allows the porcupine to raise and even rattle them if threatened. Although they have soft fur under the quills, the African crested porcupine has several sets of needle-sharp quills on its back, sides, and tail.

Did You Know?

  • Though native to Africa, the African crested porcupine is also found farther north in Italy.
  • One of the world’s largest rodents, the African crested porcupine can weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kg).
  • This species of porcupine has quills around its shoulders. It can flair out these quills to form a crest, resembling a mohawk.
  • This porcupine lives in family units, sometimes called (appropriately) prickles.
  • In the wild it normally lives 17 to 22 years, the longest of any rodent.
  • Baby porcupines, called porcupettes, are born with soft quills, which begin to harden two hours after birth.
  • Porcupine quills can be up to 20 inches (51 cm) long.
  • The African crested porcupine has 12–15 rattle quills in its tail; this is unique among porcupines.
  • This nocturnal animal can travel up to 9 miles (14 km) a night.

Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Hystricidae
Genus/Species: Hystrix (porcupine) cristata (crested)
Size: 28 inches (71 cm) long, including a 5-inch (13 cm) tail
Diet: Leaves and stems, bark, fruit, berries, blossoms, and bones
Habitat: Woody and rocky areas, forests, grasslands, and deserts

Living in the African savanna where hyenas and lions are always on the prowl, the porcupine is rarely attacked by predators. Those animals foolish enough to try are rarely successful and will never attempt it twice!

When threatened, the African crested porcupine has four warnings. First, he flairs his quills like a giant pincushion or a beautiful peacock.

Second, if this isn’t warning enough, he will then stomp his feet. If the predator persists, he will then flip his quills back and forth, making a clicking sound. And if all these fail to scare away his attacker, as a final warning he will rattle a set of 12 or 15 quills in his tail, a loud warning that sounds similar to a rattlesnake.


Photo by Derrick Ditchburn

If all warnings fail, a threatened porcupine will charge at his foe, rear-first, usually leaving a quill or two embedded in his attacker. The resulting wound is often fatal. The quills of the African crested porcupine do not have hooks and barbs (like the North American porcupine), but they are still very dangerous.

The Bible does not tell us the specifics about how porcupines changed as a result of the Curse, but the evidence is clear that God specially designed their defensive mechanisms. They did not result from random mutations.

I believe that God, who knew what was to come, designed porcupines with the genetic information necessary so they could adapt to a cursed world.

Chew on This

Like your pet hamster, porcupines have super-sharp front teeth that never stop growing. Although they normally eat plants—fruits and roots are favorites—African crested porcupines will also eat dead animals. They especially chew on the bones, an activity that keeps their teeth neatly filed to a manageable length. Chewing on bones also adds calcium to their diet. Sometimes porcupines even keep a stash of bones in their burrows.

While the African crested porcupine will defend itself when threatened, it is otherwise a shy, quiet creature with a gentle disposition.

I tell people that Prickles is a testimony to God’s continuing gentleness and mercy—even for rodents living in a cursed world.

Related Videos

Prickles, the African Crested Porcupine

Answers Magazine

July – September 2009

How do I deal with cancer? Why did God allow evil in the world? Why do snakes appear designed to kill? God’s curse is a historical reality, and we can see its results in everyday life. Don’t miss this special issue, which will give you the tools to tackle questions about evil and its true origin.

Browse Issue Subscribe


Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390