Do Porcupines Shoot Their Quills

Written by Heather Hall
Published: April 10, 2023
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A porcupine is a large rodent found in North America, South America, and parts of Europe. They are easily identified by their protective quills, which cover their body. Porcupines have long bodies with short legs and can weigh up to 25 pounds or more. These mammals use the spiny quills on their back as a defense against predators. But can they actually shoot those quills like a projectile to defend themselves? That is what we are here to find out!

Can Porcupines Shoot Their Quills?

The short answer to this question is no. Porcupines cannot shoot their quills. Instead, when threatened or startled, a porcupine will arch its back and raise the spines on its tail. This causes the barbed quills to point outward in every direction. If an animal attempts to attack the porcupine by touching it, then the quills are likely to get stuck in its skin and cause injury. The quills themselves can’t penetrate very deep into a target because they’re relatively lightweight and don’t have much momentum behind them when released from the body of the porcupine.

Porcupines are generally peaceful creatures that will only become aggressive if they feel threatened. Their quills are hollow hairs with barbs at the tip, which can stick into the flesh of whatever is threatening them. This has led to the misconception that porcupines can actually “shoot” their quills like a weapon. It is more likely that this rumor originated from people witnessing porcupines shedding their old quills during the molting process.

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North American porcupine. The porcupine

Porcupines cannot shoot their quills, instead if threatened, it will raise the spines on its back and tail which can injure any attacker.

©Warren Metcalf/

Porcupine’s Incredible Defense Strategies

When a porcupine is feeling angry or irritated, it will display its defensive strategies. It is helpful to memorize these behaviors so that you can tell when a porcupine is feeling threatened. These can range from quill erection, teeth clacking, releasing an unpleasant odor, and, if necessary, attacking the perceived threat. This is determined based on what the porcupine can see, smell, and hear.

The coloration of a porcupine is an effective defense against predators, as most predators that hunt at night have difficulty distinguishing between the black and white markings of the porcupine. The dark brown and black body and coarse hair act as camouflage for the porcupine in its natural environment, but when a predator approaches too close, it will raise its quills to present a wide white stripe down its back. This makes them highly visible even in low-light conditions and gives off similar warning signals to those given by skunks – another prey animal with similar coloration. When combined with their sharp quills, this serves as an excellent deterrent for potential predators who would otherwise be successful hunters during the night hours.

The rattling of quills is made even more effective by the hollow quills at the back end of the porcupine. By acting as a resonance chamber, these hollow quills can amplify and extend the sound of its warning. The pitch and volume produced by this behavior vary depending on how much danger it perceives, with higher-pitched sounds indicating a greater threat to potential predators. Alongside clattering their teeth, porcupines may also thump their feet against the ground or stamp their hind legs in order to intimidate predators further. If all else fails and they are attacked, porcupines will use their sharp claws to defend themselves in addition to releasing a smelly substance from glands located near their tail which serves as an additional deterrent for predators that get too close.

When a porcupine’s defensive strategies of sight, sound, and odor fail to deter a predator, it will resort to more physical tactics. It may try running sideways or backward into the animal in an attempt to ward off the threat. As another last defense measure, the porcupine can also swing its tail at the predator with great force. If contact is made with this powerful appendage, the small barbed quills could be embedded in the skin of its attacker, potentially causing serious injury or even death.

Porcupine in defensive pose

Porcupine defensive strategies include quill erection, teeth clacking, releasing an unpleasant odor, and, if necessary, attacking the perceived threat.

©Pavel Kovacs/

What Are Quills Made Of?

Porcupine quills are made of keratin, a protein found in hair, nails, and other hard tissues. The quills have sharp points at their ends and are attached to the porcupines’ skin by thin layers of tissue called sheaths. When these sheaths detach from the skin, they allow the quill to penetrate through the flesh of animals or humans that come too close.

The quills of a porcupine have a coating on the exterior that is composed of free fatty acids. This coating can provide the quills with some possible antibiotic properties, which would be beneficial to the porcupine if it has injured itself. Studies have suggested that these bacteria-fighting qualities help protect against infection in such cases and may even promote wound healing. Additionally, this same coating also helps to reduce friction and makes it easier for the porcupine to move through its environment without getting caught on any obstacles.

Porcupines are able to regrow lost quills, though the process takes time. Quills can take up to several months for a porcupine to completely regrow, depending on how many were lost and the size of the area affected. Porcupines have an endless supply of new quills, which they shed and replace throughout their life. However, when they lose large amounts of quills due to injury or aggressive encounters with predators, it can take much longer for them to regrow. During this time period, they may be left more vulnerable as their lack of physical protection could leave them exposed to dangerous situations.

Porcupine quills can take up to several months to completely regrow

Porcupines have an endless supply of new quills, however quills can take up to several months to completely regrow.


Do Quills Serve Any Other Purpose?

Porcupine quills serve a variety of other purposes besides defending a porcupine. If you find discarded quills in the forest, they can be used to make tools and musical instruments, such as flutes or rattles. They are also used in traditional medicine and spiritual practices by some cultures across the world. Additionally, many people collect porcupine quills for their decorative value due to their unique coloration and texture. While these spines can certainly protect a porcupine from predators, they have much more than just defensive capabilities!

What To Do If You See a Porcupine

If you encounter a porcupine, it is important to remember that these animals are not aggressive by nature. They will only resort to defending themselves if they feel threatened or cornered. The best thing to do in this situation is to give the porcupine a wide berth and move away slowly. Do not attempt to touch or pet the animal, as their quills can be very painful and difficult to remove from your skin. In addition, try not to startle the porcupine as they may react defensively by shooting out their quills at whatever startled them, which could include you! In almost all cases, simply leaving the area peacefully should be enough for both parties – but always keep an eye on any young children who may also be present so that they don’t inadvertently get too close and provoke an attack from the animal.

Porcupines are not aggressive by nature

Porcupines are not aggressive by nature so simply leave the area peacefully should you encounter one.


How To Get the Quills Out

If you do come in contact with a porcupine and get quilled, it is important to seek medical help immediately. Porcupine quills can easily become embedded in the skin and cause pain or infection if not removed correctly. If you are able to snip off the ends of the hollow quills safely, this will relieve some of the built-up pressure inside. However, if there are multiple quills, they should be removed by a professional who has experience dealing with them. This is because trying to remove them yourself may make them harder to pull out, as well as put yourself at risk for further injury from their sharp tips. Additionally, even once all visible quills have been removed, some may still remain lodged beneath your skin, so seeking medical advice is always recommended after an encounter with a porcupine.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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