Exploring The Similarities And Differences Between These Two Spikey Animals
Hedgehogs and porcupines are both spiny, small mammals that live in a variety of habitats around the world. While they share some similarities, hedgehogs and porcupines also have several distinct differences.
In this post, compare the Hedgehog vs Porcupine to illustrate some of the more notable similarities and differences between these two different animals. Which is bigger and which has the most spines? Let’s find out!
Hedgehog Vs Porcupine Taxonimies
- Order: Eulipotyphla
- Family: Erinaceidae
- Subfamily: Erinaceinae
- Genus: Atelerix, Erinaceus, Hemiechinus, Mesechinus, Paraechinus
- Species: There are 17 species of hedgehog across the five different genera.
- Order: Rodentia
- Sub Order: Hystricomorpha
- Infraorder: Hystricognathi
- Families: Hystricidae (Old World porcupines), Erethizontidae (New World porcupines)
- Genus: Atherurus, Hystrix, Trichys (Old World porcupines) and Chaetomys, Coendou, Erethizon (New World porcupines).
- Species: There are 58 different species of porcupine across the 6 extant genus and two families.
Hedgehog Vs Porcupine – Physical Differences
While there are obvious similarities between hedgehogs and porcupines, they are in fact very different animals. They might both have spines and a similar shape, but there are a few physical differences that tell them apart quite easily.
Hedgehogs Are Smaller Than Porcupines
One major difference between a hedgehog and a porcupine is their size. Hedgehogs are smaller than porcupines and can reach lengths of (15 to 30 cm) 6 to 12 inches long, with another 1 or 2 cm for their tail. They can reach weights up to 2 kg depending on the species and tend to be heavier around Autumn.
The European hedgehog is the largest species and averages between 9.5–14 in long when fully grown. These are also the heaviest hedgehogs, reaching up to 2.2 kg in weight.
Porcupines can vary dramatically in size. The can grow to anywhere between a few inches and 3 feet in length, with a weight between 1kg and 27 kg across the different species. Most species however, are between 60 to 90 cm (25–36 in) long, with about another third of that for the tail – 20 to 25 cm (8-10 in). The average weight is around 12–35 pounds (5–16 kg), with only a few species hitting the extremes outside of this.
Old World porcupines (Hystricidae) are larger and their spines are grouped in clusters whereas New World porcupines (Erethizontidae) are smaller and have their spines attached singly. The spines of the New World porcupines have backward facing barbs on the ends that are painful and difficult to remove from skin when embedded.
They Have Different Spines/Quills
The most notable difference between these two creatures other than size, is the type of spines they possess. Hedgehogs have short, sharp and hollow spines that are embedded in their back and sides, while porcupines are equipped with long, thick, barbed ‘hairs ‘quills’ that can reach up to 2 – 3 inches in length. There are some species, such as the African Crested porcupine that grow much longer quills up to a foot in length.
Hedgehog spines or ‘quills’ tend to be more uniform across their whole back, whereas porcupines can have longer quills toward the rear of their bodies. Porcupines also have many more spines than a hedgehog. Up to six times as many, to around a staggering 30,000 quills.
Another difference with their spines, is that a porcupine may easily dislodge their spines from their bodies, whereas a hedgehog can’t do this unless extremely stressed.
Hedgehogs can be a variety of colors, from white, to a browny sable to black, with several different pale colors on the tips of their spines.
Porcupines may have a similar brown color to their body, but have a more cream or light yellow color to their quills. They have longer and more slender bodies than hedgehogs.
A hedgehog’s body and face are covered in a strong, coarse fur rather than spines. They have 5 toes on their front paws with short nails. However, on their back paws they have 4 toes with long, constantly growing nails. They have these characteristics because hedgehogs are burrowing animals. They can also climb, swim and can sprint a surprisingly fast 6 miles per hour.
Porcupines have poor vision but have an acute sense of smell. They are very vocal animals and make shrill screeches, whines and low grunts.
Differences Between Old World and New World porcupines
New world porcupines have many different features to old world porcupines and can be told apart from a number of things anatomically. For a start, new world species have complete collar bones and complete upper lips, where old world species have cleft lips. They also have rooted molars in their mouths and four teats, whereas old world species have 6 teats. With prehensile tails, new world species can hang out in the trees too.
Location And Habitat
Hedgehogs are native to mainland Britain and are also found throughout northern and western Europe. Across the 16 various species of hedgehog, they are also found through parts of Asia, Africa and New Zealand. There are no hedgehogs native to Australia and no living species native to North America. Those in New Zealand are introduced.
Hedgehogs build nests of moss and leaves under vegetation around parks, gardens and farmland. They prefer woodland edges, hedgerows and suburban gardens where food is plentiful.
Porcupines on the other hand, encompass two different families that, despite being of the same Infraorder, can be quite different from each other. They even live on other sides of the world to each other.
Old World porcupines (Hystricidae) live across parts of Europe, particularly Italy, as well as much of Asia and Africa. They are nocturnal animals by nature, and like to keep their feet on the ground.
New World porcupines (Erethizontidae) live in the Americas, particularly North America and the northern countries of South America. They tend to be less strict about their nocturnal activity as old world species, and many of them also like to live off ground in the trees.
Porcupine habitats range from deserts, forests and grasslands. Some species of New World porcupines live in trees, however, Old World porcupines are exclusively terrestrial (ground dwellers). Some inhabit rocky regions up to 3,500 metres (11,000 feet) high. They can also be found living in rock crevices, hollow logs and small caves.
Hedgehog Vs Porcupine – Behaviour
Hedgehogs and porcupines, while both having great defences from predators with their spines, have completely different approaches when it comes to protecting themselves.
If threatened, a hedgehog can roll up into a ball as protection against predators. When rolling, they have the ability to reposition all of their spines to point outwards. However, its effectiveness depends on the number of spines. Since some of the desert hedgehogs evolved to carry less weight, they are much more likely to try to run away and sometimes even attack the intruder, trying to ram into the intruder with its spines, leaving rolling as a last resort.
Hedgehogs also have one specific behaviour that is not fully understood. They will occasionally perform a ritual called ‘anointing’. When the animal comes across a new scent, it will lick and bite the source and then form a scented froth in its mouth and paste it on its spines with its tongue.
The porcupine will attempt to warn off potential predators by giving out a growl or hiss, stamping its feet, clicking its teeth and vibrating its spines or quills. If this fails, the porcupine will run backwards and ram the attacker which is very affective as the spines face backwards and are more numerous on its rear.
Predators have been know to die from being penetrated with a porcupine spine as the barbs are designed to penetrate further into the skin with normal muscle movements.
Hedgehog Vs Porcupine – Diet
Hedgehogs are not exclusively insectivores but are almost omnivorous. They feed on insects, snails, frogs and toads, caterpillars, worms, beetles, snakes, bird eggs, carrion, mushrooms, grass roots, berries, melons and watermelons. Its favourite food is slugs and worms, but it depends on the habitat in which they live. In the right area, they may eat 40 or more slugs a night!
New world porcupines are mostly nocturnal herbivores and eat a large variety of vegetation including plants, shrubs and leaves. They often eat bark, leaves and conifer needles, but are also fond of nuts, roots, stems, berries, fruits, seeds and grasses depending on what is available in their range.
Some species are more omnivorous and will also eat insects and small reptiles.
Old world porcupines are also mostly herbivorous, eating a diet mostly of fruit, roots, and bulbs. They will also gnaw on animal bones which provide them with a natural source of salt and calcium however.
Hedgehog Vs Porcupine – Lifespan
Hedgehogs have a relatively long life span for their size. Larger species of hedgehogs live 4 – 7 years in the wild (some have been recorded up to 16 years), and smaller species live 2 – 4 years (4 – 7 in captivity). Lack of predators and controlled diet contribute to a longer life span in captivity.
The average life span of a porcupine is 5 to 7 years in the wild and up to 21 years in captivity. One individual called Cooper, is known to have lived for 32 years.
Hedgehog Vs Porcupine – Lifestyle
Hedgehogs hibernate alone from November to April under a supporting structure such as a shed, wood piles, brambles, open compost bags or bonfire heaps. They may, however, emerge to forage at night during warm winter spells. In summer, hedgehogs shelter during the day in temporary nests of leaves, moss and grass. By autumn, hedgehogs have dramatically put on weight in preparation for their hibernation.
Other than when rearing their young, mating or sometimes feeding, hedgehogs are all relatively solitary animals. They are also primarily nocturnal and dig out dens for shelter. All wild hedgehogs can hibernate, although not all do.
Procupines are more social than hedgehogs, often living in family units with up to 6 individuals. They are also very vocal animals and make shrill screeches, whines and low grunts. They are not territorial animals, however, their home range can be as large as 200 acres.
Some are fond of salt licks and sometimes wander into human settlements to find salt sources. They will also gnaw at salt placed down to thaw ice on roads which can lead to death or injury through being knocked by motor vehicles.
Porcupines generally live in family groups of 5 – 6 individuals in complex burrow systems, though many new world species spend most of their time in the trees. Some old world species, such as the African Porcupine, live in monogamous pairs and form family groups, with many families sharing burrows. It’s not uncommon for porcupines to huddle together for warmth in winter. Especially those that live at higher altitudes.
Hedgehog Vs Porcupine – Reproduction
Depending on the species, the gestation period for hedgehogs is between 30 – 60 days. The size of a litter does change between the different species. The average is between 4 – 7 new-borns for larger species of hedgehog and 5 – 6 for smaller ones.
All species of porcupine generally have much fewer offspring than hedgehogs. However, some have more than others. Old world porcupines for example, commonly have single or twin offspring, with triplets being rare. They have a gestation period of between 90 and 112 days depending on the species.
New world porcupines on the other hand tend to have single births, with both twins and triplets being much more rare. They have a much longer gestation period of up to 210 days and offspring are born fully developed. They have open eyes when they are born, and are able to climb trees within a few days of birth
Young porcupines are called ‘porcupettes’ and young hedgehogs are called ‘hoglets‘.
Hedgehogs and porcupines share a common trait in that they both have the ability to defend themselves against predators. While hedgehogs can curl up into a tight ball and make themselves difficult to attack, porcupines possess a more active defence mechanism; they are equipped with long, sharp quills which they can use as weapons. Despite this, they both have many predators willing to make a meal of them.
The Fisher (a North American marten) is the most feared predator of new world porcupines, responsible for taking more than any other animal. In some areas, they are used to control the population of porcupine. Other large and willing predators do exist too however. These include great horned owls, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and wolves.
Old world porcupines have a different range of predators, as you would expect living on the other side of the world. Their main predators include several birds of prey including large owls, some pythons, hyenas, as well as some big cats including leopards and wild cats.
Hedgehogs on the other hand are often killed by predators such as foxes, pine martens, stoats and badgers. They also have to watch out for birds of prey, particularly owls, as well as wolves, ferrets and mongoose. Again, these predators vary from region to region. Those in Africa have different predators from those that live in the UK for example.
Predators are not the only threats for porcupines and hedgehogs though. Humans are a major threat to both animals. In many areas, porcupines are often smoked out of their burrows and hunted because they are seen as an agricultural pest.
Hedgehogs are often killed accidentally by manmade influences, such as in ponds, bonfires and on roads. Sadly, they often also find themselves caught out by strimmers and lawnmowers.