A baby porcupine and her apple | video | @GrrlScientist

To celebrate caturday today, we check in with a baby pincushion, erm, porcupine, and her apple.

It’s caturday again, which means it’s time to watch a video!

This gives me the opportunity to tell you all sorts of facts about these strange animals that most people don’t know. First, porcupines are rodents. The 29 formally described species of porcupine differ from each other in overall body size and in the clustering, structure, colour and length of their quills. Additionally, New World porcupines climb trees whilst Old World species are strictly terrestrial. Porcupines occur throughout the New World and in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, where they are found in a variety of habitats in tropical and temperate regions. All porcupines are herbivorous and they tend to be nocturnal.

“Porcupine” translates from Middle French as “spined pig” in honour of their most noteworthy feature: quills. (They also can grunt and squeal like a pig.) An adult porcupine can have 30,000 or more of these quills, which are replaced when lost. Contrary to popular mythology, porcupines cannot shoot their quills at predators, but they do detach easily when touched. The quills are hollow with sharp tips and overlapping barbs that point backwards, making it easy to pierce skin and other tissues — and very difficult to remove. These qualities have inspired scientists to speculate that imitating the fine structure of porcupine quills will lead to the development of better medical devices that require minimal force to penetrate tissues, such as needles and other items (doi:10.1073/pnas.1216441109).

Here’s a sweet little video of a baby porcupine eating an apple (and doing other things too) — surely, baby porcupines are amongst of the cutest of all mammalian babies (although baby skunks are damned cute too):

[Video link]

Additional reading:

Cho W.K., Ankrum J.A., Guo D., Chester S.A., Yang S.Y., Kashyap A., Campbell G.A., Wood R.J., Rijal R.K. & Karnik R. et al. (2012). Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109 (52) 21289-21294. doi:10.1073/pnas.1216441109

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GrrlScientist can also be found here: Maniraptora. She’s very active on twitter @GrrlScientist and sometimes lurks on social media: facebook, G+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

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