Hedgehog vs. Porcupine

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Often confused for one another, hedgehogs and porcupines most certainly are not the same animal. In this lesson, we'll look at each in turn, and learn about the traits that make them both different from each other and unique as animals.

Prickly Creatures

There are two very cute and very spiny animals in the world that are often confused with each other. One is the hedgehog and the other is the porcupine. Having spines (or quills) as a defense mechanism is about the only thing these guys have in common though. They have many different characteristics, live in different habitats, eat different things, and aren't even the same size. So let's take a look at each in turn to see how hedgehogs and porcupines are special in their own ways.

The Hedgehog

Let's start with the hedgehog, of which there are over a dozen different species. This critter is found in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and lives mostly in desert and forest areas that don't get a lot of rain. They live only on the ground (not in trees) and prefer a solitary lifestyle. Their favorite food is insects, but they will also dine on slugs, snails and even snakes. This makes them good garden companions and many people like having them around to pick off backyard pests. They are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night.

Hedgehogs are small creatures that some people like to keep as pets
small hedgehog

Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets and are born with soft, flexible quills that are covered so that they don't hurt mom. As an adult they will be covered with sharp, spiky quills that they can use to defend themselves against a predator. The hedgehog will roll itself into a tight ball, pulling its head, legs, and tail inside and leaving nothing but a spiky ball on the outside. Not exactly an easy target! And speaking of quills, hedgehogs can have up to 6,000 of them on their backside. These quills are made of keratin, which is the same stuff that our hair and fingernails are made of. And despite what someone may tell you, hedgehogs cannot shoot their quills out at you any more than you can shoot your hair out of your head.

The backside of a hedgehog is covered with defensive quills
a hedgehog

Other things to keep in mind about hedgehogs is their small size. They range from 4 - 12 inches in length and weigh only 1 - 3 pounds. Hedgehogs also have a sharp, pointed nose, and in general look like a pincushion with short little legs. Hedgehogs are also kept as pets.

The Porcupine

The porcupine is known as the 'quill pig' (despite the fact that it's a rodent) and it is NOT something that you want inside your house as a pet! Unlike the stout quills of a hedgehog, a porcupine's are long and needle-like, sometimes up to a foot in length. And there may be more than 30,000 of them on the porcupine's body!

While hedgehogs keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, some porcupines are actually good tree climbers. Like hedgehogs, porcupines are found in Africa, Europe, and Asia, but they also occur in North and South America, too. Porcupines are herbivores and like to eat things like fruit, leaves, and bark. They are also nocturnal, but are much larger in size than hedgehogs. They range from 25 - 36 inches in length, plus an 8 - 10 inch tail, and depending on the species (of which there are 23) can weigh anywhere from 2 to over 70 pounds.

Some porcupines are good tree climbers
porcupine in tree

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