Quills, also called spines (not spikes, but spines), are modified hairs similar to needles that we find in many species. Their primary purpose is defending the animal, which is why they often have a barbed tip.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at all animals with quills!
- Spiny Mice
- Armored Rats
- Spiny Bandicoots
- Sea Urchins
- Hysteroconcha lupanaria
- Thorny Devil Lizard
- Armadillo Girdled Lizard
Scientific name (subfamily): Erinaceinae
Hedgehog quills are the most well-known type of quill, and they’re a great example of an effective defense system in animals. Their quills are essentially hollow hairs filled with keratin, and they’re usually very pointy at the end.
Similar to how snakes change their skin, hedgehogs will change their quills. In a process called ‘quilling’, young animals ‘shed’ their immature quills and replace them with adult quills.
To maximize their defensive attributes, hedgehogs will often roll into a small ball. That way, their entire body is protected by quills.
Even though their quills aren’t poisonous, hedgehogs will often lick and chew some things (often manmade things) and spit the substance on their quills to deter predators.
Scientific name (families): Hystricidae and Erethizontidae
Porcupine quills are some of the longest quills in the animal kingdom, and they’re even thicker and longer than the quills of a hedgehog.
There’s a slight difference between New World and Old World porcupines, with Old World porcupines developing quills in clusters.
Porcupines can release their quills when another animal gets poked, and they’re also released by shaking the body. Their quills constantly grow, just like hair in people, and are constantly replaced by new ones.
The quills of a porcupine aren’t poisonous (unless they rubbed off on something), but they’re incredibly painful to take out once they’ve lodged in the skin.
3. Spiny Mice
Scientific name (genus): Acomys
The hair of the spiny mouse is called guard hair, and it serves a purpose very similar to a hedgehog’s quills. This hair is somewhat glossy, and it helps repel water and it blocks sunlight.
Guard hair won’t repel predators, though, but it’s crucial for these mice, as most of them are originally from Africa and the Middle East, where they need to handle extreme temperatures to survive.
These small animals with spines are often kept as exotic pets.
4. Armored Rats
Scientific name: Hoplomys gymnurus
Armored rats belong to a family called Echimyidae or spiny rats. They have soft fur with plenty of spines on the back and the sides, measuring up to 1.3 inches in length.
The spines are there to protect the animal and they’re mostly sharp and pointy.
Armored rats mostly nocturnal, which helps them avoid predators. Even when they do come up against a predator, they can drop their tails just like lizards. The most common natural predators of these animals with spiky fur are snakes and cats.
Scientific name (family): Tenrecidae
Some tenrecs have developed hedgehog-like spines alongside their body. For example, tailless tenrec, lesser hedgehog tenrec, and the greater hedgehog tenrec all have spines on their bodies.
These African animals with quills often have their entire bodies, except for the head, covered with quills, and that’s why they’re often confused for hedgehogs.
6. Spiny Bandicoots
Scientific name (genus): Echymipera
Spiny bandicoots are native to New Guinea, and they got their name from the spiny hairs covering their body.
Since they’re a very secretive species, not much is known about them, but we know that the spiky fur isn’t really painful to the touch.
Scientific name (family): Tachyglossidae
You’ll often see echidnas referred to as ‘spiny anteaters’, and that’s not without reason. These small porcupine-like animals are covered with spines, while they mostly feed on ants and termites.
Interestingly, long-beaked echidnas even have spines on their tongue to help them catch prey.
When threatened, an echidna will burrow or curl into a ball like a hedgehog, letting the quills protect them.
Echidnas definitely won’t shoot their quills – in fact, the answer to the ‘what animals can shoot quills?’ question is none.
Porcupines can only shoot quills in cartoons – very few animals have ranged attack options in real life, and animals with quills don’t belong on that list.
Scientific name: Scorpaenidae
Here’s a fish that you definitely don’t want to come across in the sea! Scorpionfish have one of the most effective defense systems in the animal kingdom – they can have up to seven spines on their body, with most of them containing venom glands.
These fish with quills will release venom if they’re stepped on, which is the most common way they injure people, as they like to spend time in the shallows.
Depending on the health of the individual and the potency of the venom, the sting can cause anything from minor to serious symptoms.
Scientific name (genus): Pterois
These venomous fish aren’t dangerous to people as long as you don’t touch them, but they can cause extreme pain if you do. In rare instances, their venom can cause death.
Fish that have quills are usually rare in the parts non-divers swim in – they’re often spotted below 330 feet of depth, so the chances of you bumping into one are unlikely.
However, they can also come close to the surface, and you should definitely avoid them if you see them.
Scientific name (suborder): Myliobatoidei
The sting on the end of the stingray’s tail is actually a barbed spine, and they’ve given us perhaps the most famous answer to the question ‘can animals with quills kill people?’ in 2006 when a stingray tragically killed the unforgettable Steve Irwin.
Even though fatal stings are very rare (Irwin’s death was only the second recorded stingray-caused death in Australia’s history), they’re definitely possible. Thankfully, these animals with big quills are timid and they very rarely attack humans.
A stingray can have more than a single blade, and it’s usually surgically sharp. The pain caused by the injury is described as ‘terribly painful’, as the blade is barbed and it can even break off in the wound.
Stingrays do release venom when stinging, but it’s not considered lethal for humans. Steve Irwin died because the stingray killing him had struck his thoracic wall and pierced his heart.
11. Sea Urchins
Scientific name (class): Echinoidea
Sea urchins are the most recognizable species when it comes to spines, as their entire body is covered with them. The word urchin is an Old World word for hedgehog.
These round sea animals with spines have two sets of spines – shorter and longer spines. They’re not here just for protection, as they also serve as nerve endings, allowing urchins to feel the environment around them.
The spines are usually sharp, and they’re even venomous in some species.
12. Hysteroconcha lupanaria
This marine mollusk belongs to the family of Venus clams, and it’s one of the very few clams with quills.
The purpose of the quills, however, isn’t clear, with experts speculating that it’s supposed to prevent predators from eating the clam.
13. Thorny Devil Lizard
Scientific name: Moloch horridus
Rattlesnakes have their rattle to deter threats, and the thorny devil lizard has thorns. Their entire body is covered with spikes which are very effective when it comes to defending themselves from predators.
These small animals with thorns are one of the very few reptiles with quills and they’re very rarely eaten – if a predator were to eat the thorny devil lizard, they would hurt themselves on the spikes.
The only animals eating them in the wild are wild birds and goannas.
On top of their thorns, they also have a fake head on the back which comes out when they’re under threat.
Scientific name (family): Diodontidae
These fish are often confused with pufferfish because they’re both able to inflate their bodies. However, porcupinefish have sharp quills which burst out when the fish gets inflated.
There are poisonous species of this fish, with poison more potent than cyanide. Just like with other fish with quills, this is a method that’s supposed to prevent predators from eating them.
15. Armadillo Girdled Lizard
Scientific name: Ouroborus cataphractus
The final entry on our list is one of the very few lizards with spines, sharing that title with the thorny devil lizard. On top of having a few spines on its tail, this lizard developed a very thick armor, hence the connection to armadillos.
When threatened, this lizard will roll into a ball, and predators will usually give up when they realize they have to break through the thick scales.
The tail is covered with pointy quills, which deal additional damage to anyone biting the lizard.
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