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Jessi points out the difference between a prehensile tailed porcupine and an African crested porcupine in this friendly comparison.

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(Intro)

When I think about all the incredible adaptations that have evolved in animals over millennia, being covered in sharp spikes that can impale, maim, and even kill is pretty darn amazing.  We have two porcupines at Animal Wonders: Kemosabe and Kizmit.  They both have sharp quills to protect them but they don't use them in the same way.  

There are 29 species of porcupines currently living on our planet and we can separate them into two main groups: old world and new world.  Old world porcupines refer to those species native to Africa and Asia, and new world porcupines refer to those species native to South, Central, and North America.  Kemosabe is a new world porcupine native to Brazil.  His species is coendou prehensilis and he's often referred to as a prehensile tailed porcupine.  His quills like this.

Kizmit is an old world porcupine, native to Africa.  Her species is hylo critsia, also known as an African crested porcupine.  Her quills look like this.  Comparing their quills, yo can see Kizmit's are pretty thick and sturdy, where Kemosabe's are much thinner.  If you compare their behavior in the wild, you would also see quite a big difference.  When at rest, both porcupines lay their quills flat against their body.  When threatened, they raise them up in warning but Kizmit's quills have an extra warning.  There are specialized quills on her tail that are shaped like straws and when she shakes her tail, they act as a rattle and noise deterrent.  Kemosabe also has a noise deterrent, but not his quills.  Instead, he chatters his teeth. 

When threatened, both porcupines will run or lunge toward their attacker, but that's where the similarities end.  Kizmit charges backwards or sideways, impaling her assailant with her strong, thick quills.  Sometimes the quills just graze or poke in slightly, causing a small, non-life threatening wound, but she can also move so fast that the force behind her charge is so powerful that she can run her quills completely through a lion.  On the other hand, Kemosabe doesn't need all that power because there's more to his quills than meets the naked eye.  When you put Kemosabe's quill underneath a microscope, you can see that the tip of the quill isn't smooth like Kizmit's are.  New world porcupine quills have little barbs running all around the tip. 

The difference in their quills plays a major role in the difference in their behavior.  When Kemosabe is threatened, he will chatter his teeth and then flex the muscles on his back, making his quills stand upright.  Then, he sways a bit in warning before lunging forward, lodging his head and back quills into the intruder.  The interesting part is that his quills are then left in the attacker as he pulls away.  Even though his charge isn't as powerful as Kimzit's, the force of the quills going into the other animal will break the ligament that's holding the quills into place under his skin.  Since they're no longer attached by the ligament under Kemosabe's skin, as he pulls away, the barbs on the tip of the quill will catch on the skin of the attacker, causing them to pull out of Kemosabe's follicle and stay lodged in their new host.  With every moment the attacker makes, the barbed quill works its way deeper and deeper into the animal, which is why most animals stay away from porcupines or they learn their lesson really quickly.

You might be wondering how Kemosabe's not constantly poking himself with quills that stick into things so easily.  How does he scratch an itch?  The barbs on the quills definitely make it challenging not to poke things all the time, but the answer is interesting.  The quills won't come out of his skin unless the ligaments holding them in place are broken, which only happens when force is applied inward, so as long as Kemosabe moves slowly and carefully, he can itch and groom himself all he wants. 

He can even socialize with others very carefully, which brings us to another difference between Kemosabe and Kizmit.  Kemosabe is a solitary dude, as are all new world porcupines.  They live most of their life alone, only coming together to mate and when the mother raises her young.  So Kemosabe is happiest when we give him his space.  He tolerates our presence, but he enjoys the experience most when his favorite food is involved.  

Kizmit and all crested old world porcupines are very social.  They often spend years with their family groups, hanging out, playing, and grooming each other.  Kizmit loves spending time with us and her cavy friends.  She enjoys grooming Pickles the guinea pig's ears and frolicking with Chili Pepper the Patagonian cavy, and when we come to visit, she eagerly runs up to us to say hello.  She especially enjoys licking us with her rough tongue while we rub her chest and neck.  It's sort of like a social grooming behavior she'd do with her own species in the wild. 

So even though it might seem like all porcupines are the same because they're all covered in death, there's more difference than meet the eye, and we just compared two individuals from two species.  There are 29 porcupine species and so many individual personalities within.  There's so many things to learn about how animals function and what drives their behavior.  I think it's all so fascinating and I hope this episode has inspired you to keep wondering about how and why animals do the things they do.  

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