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Porcupines

( Originally Published 1936 )

These are large, heavily-built rodents, inhabiting the south of Europe and Asia, America, and parts of Africa. They are distinguished by long, sharp-pointed spines, or quills, those on the tail being hollow. The Old World species are ground animals, and have no long hairs mixed with the quills, but bristles instead, and the first toe is rudimentary. In one Indian and African genus, however (Atherura), the body is covered with spines and bristles, rather than with quills. The New World Porcupines are more or less tree-living, their spines are mingled with long hairs, and the first toe is entirely absent. They have very powerful incisor teeth, but rely for defence entirely on their quills, which, however, they cannot project from the skin as was once believed.

Porcupine (Hystrix cristata)

The common Porcupine inhabits South Europe and Northern and Western Africa, but is replaced in Southern and Eastern Africa and India by allied species. It measures upwards of three feet in length, and the head is clothed with stiff bristles which are continued back over the neck to form a crest, or mane. The muzzle is short and thick, and the upper lip is set with long hairs on each side. The general colour is black above, but the long quills, except those of the tail, are banded with white, and the under-surface of the body is clothed with dark brown red-tipped hairs, while the throat is white. See Plate 19, Fig. 94. The Porcupine is a nocturnal animal and lives in burrows. When molested, it erects its spines and backs towards its enemy, the quills, when shaken, producing a loud noise and also being capable of inflicting severe wounds.

They are barbed, and, being easily detached, may become fixed in the flesh of an attacking animal and so carried away. This may have given rise to the notion that they were shot out by the Porcupine.

The North American Porcupines constitute a different genus, with two species, and are of stout build, with short, heavy limbs that end in large claws, the hair long and coarse and almost concealing the small sharp quills. In South America is a smaller form that is almost exclusively tree-living and has a long and partially prehensile tail.



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