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11 Prickly Facts about Porcupines

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Porcupines might be considered a prickly bunch, but they're pretty cute once you learn more about them.

1. The origin of "porcupine" can be traced back to Old English and French words.

The word porcupine is a derivative of the Middle French word porc d’espine, meaning “thorny pig.” Middle English variants include "porcupyne" and "porcapyne."

2. Porcupines are the third largest rodents in the world, and the second largest in North America.

That's right behind the second-place beaver, and the first-place capybara. 

3.  Porcupines cannot throw their quills, as was previously thought.


When a porcupine feels threatened, it tenses up and attacks predators with the swat of its tail, embedding quills into their skin. Only on occasion will loose quills fall out before it strikes, creating the illusion that they're being shot out.

4. A porcupine has approximately 30,000 quills on its body.


A typical porcupine has soft hair mixed with quills, which grow from its back, sides, and tail.

5. There are two different types of porcupines.


Old World porcupines live in Southern Europe, Asia, and Africa. New World porcupines are indigenous to North America and Northern South America.

6. Old World porcupines may not be good climbers, but they are excellent swimmers.

Michelle Bender, Flickr //CC BY NC-ND-2.0

New World porcupines, on the other hand, are capable of clinging to trees with their tails and catching surrounding branches if they fall.

7. They are nocturnal herbivores.

Porcupines are primarily creatures of the night that rest in hollow logs, trees, and crevices during the day, and later come out to enjoy feasts of tree bark, grass, twigs, stems, berries, and the like.

8. Their quills are pre-medicated.

largestartist, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Each quill has a topical antibiotic, so a porcupine attack will not necessarily lead to an infection. This is, however, a defense mechanism to prevent accidental self-quilling.

9. Baby porcupines have soft quills at birth, which harden within a few days.

Chiot's Run, Flickr // CC BY NC-2.0

When they grow accustomed to fending for themselves, baby porcupines leave their mothers—approximately 6 months after they're born.

10. Porcupine quills have overlapping barbs at the tips, making them hard to remove.

KaraStenberg, Flickr // CC BY NC-2.0

Each quill boasts between 700 and 800 barbs along its tip.

11. The porcupine mating ritual involves a vicious battle—and urination on the female.

Marie Hale, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A typical mating ritual consists of two males fighting over a single female. The males are careful not to injure themselves during the fight, and the winner territorially urinates on the female so that she knows to move her tail aside for safe, quill-free mating.

Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Love to Dig?
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Dog owners with green thumbs beware: It's likely just a matter of time before Fido turns your azalea bed into a graveyard of forgotten chew toys. When dogs aren't digging up your prized garden, they can be found digging elsewhere in your yard, at the beach, and even between your couch cushions at home. But what exactly is behind your dog's drive to turn every soft surface he or she sees into an excavation site?

According to Dr. Emma Grigg, an animal behaviorist and co-author of The Science Behind a Happy Dog, this behavior is completely normal. "When people say 'why do dogs dig,' the first thing that always comes to mind is 'well, because they're dogs,'" she tells Mental Floss. The instinct first appeared in dogs' wolf ancestors, then it was amplified in certain breeds through artificial selection. That's why dogs that were bred to hunt rodents, like beagles and terriers, are especially compelled to dig in places where such animals might make their homes.

But this tendency isn't limited to just a few specific breeds. No matter their original roles, dogs of all breeds have been known to kick up some dirt on occasion. Beyond predatory urges, Dr. Grigg says there are two main reasons a dog may want to dig. The first is to cool off on a hot day. When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to beat the heat.

The second reason is to stash away goodies. Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he'll be able to find it. Whether or not he'll actually go back for it is a different story. "There's a disconnect with modern dogs: They know the burying part but they don't always know to dig it up," Dr. Grigg says.

Because digging is part of a dog's DNA, punishing your pet for doing so isn't super effective. But that doesn't mean you should stand idly by as your yard gets turned inside-out. When faced with this behavior in your own dog, one option is to redirect it. This can mean allowing him to dig in a designated corner of the yard while keeping other parts off-limits, or setting up a raised flowerbed or sandbox especially to satisfy that urge. "You can get him interested in the area by burying a couple bones or some interesting things in there for him to dig," Dr. Grigg says. "I like the idea of buried treasure."

If your dog's motive for digging is more destructive than practical, he may have an energy problem. Dogs require a certain amount of stimulation each day, and when their humans don't provide it for them they find their own ways to occupy themselves. Sometimes it's by chewing up shoes, toppling trash cans, or digging ditches the perfect size for twisting ankles. Fortunately, this is nothing more walks and playtime can't improve.

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