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Porcupine are quite abundant in Umbria but being nocturnal they are not very often seen. It is far more common to find striped quills lying on the ground and to know that one has passed that way.

Our first sighting was of a pair crossing the road together, caught in the headlights of our car. At that point we were not aware that they existed in the area and so were quite taken aback. There is something comical about the length of their legs when they lift up to move quickly. Shortly after that we saw one dead in the road where it had been run over.

Crested porcupine - click to enlarge

Crested porcupine (hystrix cristata)
Click on picture to enlarge

The crested porcupine, which is the species found in Umbria, has a great bush of spines sticking out behind and its preferred method of attack is to run backwards at its enemy. Contrary to popular belief, it cannot actually throw its quills but they are loose and easily become stuck in vulnerable flesh.

We have a Retriever who is much given to going off on his own for adventures and who returned one day with a porcupine quill stuck in his lip. Fortunately for him, we were able to extract it because wild animals sometimes die from infection introduced by these spines. However there was also something odd about our pet's eye. On closer examination it was possible to see a tiny brown spike apparently extending the brown color of the iris. The local vet removed the tip of a quill and announced that very fortunately our pet's vision had not been damaged.

Our adventurous Retriever - click to enlarge

Our adventurous Retriever
Click on picture to enlarge

Porcupine are rodents, more closely related to beavers than to that other spine-bearing animal the hedgehog. They feed on fruit, roots and bulbs. Their flesh is apparently quite delicious and they are a prized Italian delicacy, described as rather like rabbit.

The quills are modified hairs coated with keratin. They are as sharp as needles and hollow, which keeps the animal buoyant when swimming and also enhances the rattling noise made when they are shaken to try to warn off intruders.

Quills are sometimes used to make jewelry and various other knick-knacks which has put some species of porcupine in danger of extinction. In fact one species was made extinct in Italy quite recently, though probably due more to its being hunted for meat and to its being considered a pest because it bites through fences and damages crops.

The name commonly used for this animal in Italy is 'istrice', which bears relation to the scientific name 'hystrix', while the dictionary alternative 'porcospino' obviously has the same derivation as 'porcupine'.

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