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Porcupines and hedgehogs have been confounding humans with their identical similarities for years.
But their similar prickly appearance is just the result of convergent evolution. These two creatures with their quill-filled backs are not even remotely related.
It is true that hedgehogs and porcupines both are mammals and nocturnal, but each of them belongs to a completely different species. While a porcupine belongs to the Rodentilla order and is more closely related to a rat or a mouse, a hedgehog is a member of the Eulipotyphla order and is related to shrews and European moles. Also, both hedgehogs and porcupines prefer different habitats. While the former can be found in deserts, forests, and savannas, the latter can be seen in hillsides, rocky coves, and forests.
Apart from this, hedgehogs and porcupines both have multiple species of their own. It is said that there are 58 species of porcupines spread all over the world and 17 species of hedgehogs in Europe, Asia, and Africa. While hedgehogs are endemic to only three continents, porcupines are divided into the Old World group (found in Africa, Europe, and Asia) and the New World group (native to North and South America).
Even though both of these animals have managed to evolve towards somewhat the same direction and have managed to acquire similar defensive weaponry, they are much different in choosing a lifestyle, diet, habitat, and even defensive behavior.
Hedgehog vs. porcupine has been the topic of discussion for a long time. Let's see some of their differences and who is the best in this pair.
The thing or things that make their appearance alike are their quills or spines. Both these animals possess thousands of quills on their back and use them for their personal defense. While porcupines have nearly or sometimes over 30,000 quills, hedgehogs typically possess 3,000-5,000 of them. Also, hedgehog and porcupine quills are different in size and nature. A porcupine's quills are normally 3 in (7.62 cm) in length, and they fall off and regrow throughout the animal's life. However, the quills of a hedgehog are much shorter, around 1 in (2.54 cm) in length, made of keratin, the same protein responsible for the growth of human hair and nails, and do not fall off the animal's body.
It is believed that porcupines can throw their quills, but the statement is completely untrue and is a result of mere speculation. Porcupines cannot shoot their spines, but being barbed and easily detachable these quills can cause some nasty injuries to predators or humans if we got too close to them.
The case is not the same with hedgehogs. They do not really lose their quills except when they are going through the quilling process. Hoglets, baby hedgehogs, do not possess real spines so that the mother hedgehog can be safe from possible quill injuries. They are born with baby quills that fall off when the hoglets reach adulthood. Then adult quills replace the baby quills, much similar to how humans lose their milk teeth to make space for real teeth. The quilling process can be painful to these animals, and they tend to be in a bad mood around this time. To some hedgehogs, this process ends quickly and for others, it can happen over a period of a few years. Porcupettes (baby porcupines) on the other hand do not face any such process; they lose and regrow their quills throughout their lives.
Every year, a female hedgehog gives birth to four to seven hoglets. These little hedgehogs come out very small in size and weigh about 1 oz (28.3 g). They mostly remain under their mother's care and grow a little every day. But in certain cases, the mother hedgehog can attack her children out of stress. A female porcupine, on the other hand, gives birth to a maximum of three porcupettes after a gestation period of 112 days. This gestation period is considered to be one of the longest spent by the animals belonging to the rodent family.
It can be assumed that porcupines are stronger than hedgehogs, given their bigger size. Also, they are the faster one in the pair with a top speed of 6 mph (9.6 kph).
The size of hedgehogs and porcupines is one of the key differences between these animals. A wild hedgehog can weigh up to 2 lb (0.9 kg) and even more if kept in captivity. On the other hand, an average-size porcupine's weight can be 12-35 lb (5.4-15.8 kg). While the smallest species of porcupines (Rothchild's porcupine) can match the size of an average hedgehog, the largest species (the crested porcupine of Africa) can be around the size of a small labrador. In fact, porcupines are the third-largest animals of the rodent family after beavers and capybaras.
Both porcupines and hedgehogs have to face multiple fierce predators in their daily lives. One of the biggest threats to a hedgehog is owls. These birds hide in the trees and swoop down to attack any wandering hedgehog that they spot. Foxes and wolves are some of the other predators who prey on hedgehogs. Porcupines are also threatened by these animals, in addition to cougars and bobcats. But the biggest predators of porcupines are fishers.
Because of their greater speed (than hedgehogs) and more active defensive mechanism, porcupines are considered to be more agile.
Even though both porcupines and hedgehogs use the same weaponry for their personal defense, they have different defensive behavior. Hedgehogs generally push their quills up to make a solid shield out of them, and then roll themselves into a ball. This way the vulnerable places of the body like the face, belly, and legs remain protected. Hedgehogs are also known for sleeping in the same manner so that they can defend against an unexpected attack. Sometimes, when they feel threatened, hedgehogs also make hissing noises.
A porcupine, on the other hand, does not roll up like its counterpart. It will rather try to flee the predator, and if that fails it will start growling and stomping. The spiky animal will frequently try to wave its tail around to injure the predator with spines and only stomp harder if that fails too. Finally, if the predator tries to attack, it will swiftly turn around and impale the predator's face on the quills. Then it will release the spikes from its body and escape.
Both hedgehogs and porcupines have different diets, and none of them are known for being heavy eaters. They eat the amount their size permits.
Hedgehogs are generally carnivorous. So, they mostly eat beetles, caterpillars, slugs, worms, and other invertebrates. Frogs, rodent babies, small snakes, little birds, and eggs are also some of their favorite food. Often a hedgehog can also be seen munching on fallen fruit.
Porcupines are herbivores; they mainly eat fruits, grass, leaves, nuts, and seeds. Occasionally, a porcupine can be seen climbing trees to eat bark or they can be seen feeding on wood. Porcupines who are native to North and South America mostly eat green plants, leaves, and twigs, and those who are native to Africa eat roots, tubers, and bulbs, as they cannot climb trees. African porcupines are also not complete herbivores, for they sometimes feed on carrion.
Both of these nocturnal creatures are popular as pets, although it can be challenging for the owner. While a ball of spines can be a bit easier to handle, a porcupine might become violent if you try to be too affectionate with it. Just a heads-up, in case you are planning to adopt any one of them.
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