A Moment of Science

Porcupine Quills

Are porcupine quills poisonous? Well no, let's start with the basics...

porcupine

Photo: Eric Kilby

The quill tips get lodged into the skin and are difficult and painful to remove.

Are porcupine quills poisonous?

Well no, let’s start with the basics: quills are simply hairs that have evolved to have certain protective attributes. Quills are loosely held by a porcupine’s skin, and so if another creature comes into contact with a porcupine, quills detach easily from the porcupine. Not so for the victim though. Quills have sharp tips with barbs on them that expand when they enter the warmth of another animal’s skin.

The quill tips get lodged into the skin and are difficult and painful to remove. If the tips aren’t removed, the quilled victim is likely to develop secondary infections.

If untreated, infections from quills can be fatal. In other cases, a quilled animal may starve to death. Because animals like dogs often explore things with their mouths, they’re likely to get quilled in the mouth. Eating may become too painful. In rare and severe cases, a quilled animal may die from shock.

So, porcupines aren’t poisonous, but their quills can pack a punch.

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