The Strange and Surprising Reason Porcupines Have Red Teeth

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

A porcupine yawning close-up / Kara Capaldo via Istock
A porcupine yawning close-up / Kara Capaldo via Istock

Porcupines, while mysterious animals are infamous for the many spikes that cover them.

You may not know it, but if you manage to get close enough to a porcupine, you can notice that its teeth are a shade of red, or orange.

This is not actually because they don’t brush their teeth, but for another interesting reason.

The red teeth of a porcupine are just one of many amazing traits about them.

Let’s take a look at why porcupines have red teeth and other amazing facts about them that you will want to know.

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Why Do Porcupines Have Red Teeth?

Photo: Cassia Bars via Getty Images

Porcupines have red teeth due to the iron oxide in their enamel.

Like the blood in our veins, iron causes the porcupine’s teeth to have a shade of red.

The red coloring is not just for show but helps protect the porcupine’s teeth when gnawing on items like trees, and branches.

Iron in a porcupine’s teeth safeguards their chompers from mechanical stress and acid wear.

Their incisors never stop growing, and they chew constantly to wear them down.

Beavers also have red teeth for the same reason and are actually relatives of porcupines.

What Types of Animals are Porcupines?

Portrait of crested porcupine close up | tatianaput via Getty IMages

Despite their large size, porcupines are mammals in the Rodentia order, more commonly known as rodents.

That means they are relatives of animals like rats, squirrels, mice, beavers, and groundhogs.

Rodents are ubiquitous and are estimated to make up around 40% of all mammal species.

The incisors of rodents continue to grow their entire lives and are identifiable by their curved shape.

rodent gnawing
A rodent gnawing a wire | tenra via iStock

Continuously gnawing through items help rodents keep their teeth sharpened, and at a good length.

Rodents’ teeth never stop growing since they have open-rooted dentition.

While porcupines have red teeth, they are not the only type of rodent with this trait.

You can find a species with iron-laced teeth in every major group of rodents.

Red kangaroo
Red kangaroo on white background | bradleyblackburn via iStock

Rats, kangaroo mice, and beavers are some other types of rodents with red teeth.

Porcupines are unique among the rodent family because of the thousands of quills that cover them.

They share the same traits as other animals within the rodent order like their robust bodies, long tails, and short limbs.

They are great swimmers, and climbers, and are mainly active at night.

What do Porcupines Eat?

Eat well, Porcupine! | Wirestock via Getty Images

Porcupines are primarily herbivores.

Their strong iron-laced teeth help them bite through various plant-material.

Their diet varies based on location and season.

In the spring and summer seasons, plant life is more abundant, allowing these rodents to feed things like seeds, roots, buds, and leaves.

Pine needles
Pine needles | bradleyblackburn via iStock

In winter they are inclined to eat harder material like bark, and pine needles due to the lack of food.

On rare occasions, they feed on smaller grub insects.

It is not uncommon to find large trees bitten through, and fallen over.

Porcupines are often seen as pests by humans since they damage plants and other animals.

The Different Types of Porcupines

Photo: Alessandro Tramonti via Getty Images

Surprisingly there are actually around 58 different porcupine species in the world.

While each species varies in size, porcupines are considered one of the largest rodents.

They are classified into two families.

New world porcupine
New world porcupine | J. Glover via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.5

There are Old World porcupines in the Hystricidae family and New World porcupines in the Erethizontidae family.

While both are porcupines, the two families have some differences between them.

New World porcupines are mainly arboreal, while Old World porcupines tend to be more terrestrial, and do not climb trees.

The quills of the two types also have differences. Old World porcupines lack the barbs that the other family has.

Old World Porcupine
Old world porcupine | Eloquence via Wikipedia Public Domain

These barbs help penetrate and stick to the skin. Along with differences between the porcupine families, there are many types of differences in the species.

Here are some porcupines that you should know about.

North American Porcupine

North American Porcupine Up Close Cute Face with spikes | Cub Gerber And Eddie Maurer via Getty IMages

The North American porcupine is the second largest rodent species in North America, right behind the American beaver.

They are classified as New World porcupines and are also the largest in their family.

This species is around 20 lbs and ranges from 2 to 3 ft. in length.

As its name suggests this porcupine is native to North America.

Coniferous forest
Coniferous forest | Riekkinen via iStock

They are found in the coniferous forests and woodlands of Canada, the United States, and Northern Mexico.

There are seven subspecies of this porcupine, spread across their region.

Like other members of their family, they have curved claws that help them climb trees.

This species has even managed to adapt to harsher environments like desert chaparral, and tundra.

African Crested Porcupine

African crested porcupine | Pedro Ferreira do Amaral via Getty Images

The African crested porcupine is the largest species of a porcupine, and they are members of the Old World porcupine family.

This species has an average length of 2 to 3 ft. African crested porcupines typically weigh between 22 to 66 lbs.

Their quills are also the largest of any porcupine, sticking out of their body up to 12 to 13 inches.

Sub-Sahara desert
Sub-Sahara desert | KarelGallas via iStock

This porcupine lives within the sub-Sahara of Africa, North Africa,  and also Italy.

Their large size is the reason why they are considered the most dangerous porcupine in the world.

Lions, leopards, and even packs of hyenas must be careful with this large rodent.

Bahia Hairy Dwarf Porcupine

Observation © Leonardo Merçon

Out of all the types in the world, the Bahia hairy dwarf porcupine is the smallest porcupine species alive.

This species is native to Brazil and lives in the Caatinga region.

As a type of New World porcupine, this species is a great climber and mainly lives in forest habitats.

Forest habitat
Forest habitat | fotoVoyager via iStock

Adults only reach around 2 ft. in length, and at most weigh a little over 3 lbs.

They are nocturnal, and their secretive nature and limited range make the Bahia hairy dwarf porcupine one of the least studied species.

Are Porcupines Dangerous?

Close-up of the malayan porcupine | pumppump via Getty Images

Being covered in spikes it is quite obvious that porcupines are dangerous animals.

These rodents have more than 30,000 quills, made out of keratin covering them.

They are also able to bite, but their red teeth are rarely used due to their spiked defense.

Contrary to the well-told myth porcupines do not shoot their quills at predators, but their spikes are designed to easily come off of their body.

Porcupines spines | Andrei Vasilev via iStock

As soon as they lose quills they began to regrow them.

To humans, porcupines are not that dangerous, since most of us are smart enough to not provoke these walking spike traps.

Luckily porcupines are not aggressive.

Porcupine sleeping in a tree | Nancy Strohm via Getty IMages

If they feel threatened they will use their red teeth to make a chattering noise, and emit an odor from their body to ward off predators.

Porcupines are most known for raising their quills and lashing their tails.

Dogs, cats, and other curious animals not smart enough to stay away from a porcupine are who are in the most danger when in the presence of these rodents.

raising quill
The porcupine seek a food on the grass, raising its quill | s1pheeraphan via iStock

Even though their quills are meant to defend themselves from predators, they are coated with a natural antibiotic that helps protect their victims from infection.

You can always find something interesting to learn about porcupines.

Their red teeth, thousands of quills, and secretive nature are just a few reasons why these rodents are so interesting.


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