Mechanical design of hedgehog spines and porcupine quills



The spines or quills of hedgehogs and porcupines are morphologically and mechanically different. In simple terms, it seems that the quills of porcupines are proportioned to be as long as possible without bending too easily when loaded axially. By contrast, the spines of the hedgehog are as short as possible while still able to bend when loaded axially. In addition, the hedgehog spines have an internal morphology which delays the onset of local buckling under these loads, thus enabling the spines to absorb larger amounts of mechanical energy. By contrast, the quills of Hystrix are designed to break at the tip. Thus, whilst the quills of the porcupine seem to be well adapted for keeping an enemy as far away as possible, the spines of the hedgehog probably have this as an incidental function. Their main function is much more likely to be that of a shock absorber or storage of impact energy when the animal falls from a height, a behavioural attribute which is reportedly common.