Nature Nugget – Prickly Mammals

Throughout most of northern and western North America lives the world’s second largest rodent, the North American Porcupine. Attaining a weight of up to 40 pounds, this rodent is found from high-mountain, forested areas to the scrubby, creosote expanses of the low deserts. Porcupines are heavy-set, short-legged, slow-moving mammals, preferring to be alone. They are also nocturnal and spend most of their time in trees.

The porcupine’s back and tail are covered with up to 30,000 sharp quills armed with barbs. These barbed quills detach easily and can become painfully embedded in the skin of an attacker—especially so when the porcupine swats the attacker with its tail. Not only do the quills inflict painful wounds, but they also work their way deep into the skin and may even cause death if they puncture vital organs or if the wounds become infected.

Porcupines are vegetarians, preferring to feed on leaves, twigs, and green plants. In the winter they feed on the inner bark of trees. As with all rodents, the porcupine’s teeth grow continuously and must be kept worn down by gnawing on wood. They are especially fond of salt and will chew on axe handles to get the salt left there by human hands.

In Australia and New Guinea lives an odd family of mammals known as echidnas or spiny anteaters. They are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs rather than give live birth as most mammals do. Echidnas have long, sharp spines protecting their bodies. When danger threatens, they roll into a ball, thus protecting their vulnerable undersides. There are several different species of echidnas and all are insectivores, feeding on ants, termites, other insects, and earthworms, which they find with their sensitive snouts. They then dig them out with their strong claws and catch them with their long, sticky tongues. During the breeding season, a female echidna develops a simple pouch into which she lays a single, leathery-shelled egg. The egg hatches in ten days and the baby is blind and hairless. It gets milk from a gland within the mother’s pouch. In a few weeks, the baby (called a puggle) develops sharp spines and must leave the pouch.

In Africa and Eurasia lives another group of spiny mammals called hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are in the order Insectivora and are related to shrews and moles. They have rounded bodies up to thirteen inches long, very short tails, and pointed snouts. Their backs and sides are covered with stiff, inch-long spines, and their undersides are covered with coarse hair. When threatened, a hedgehog rolls itself into a tight ball with its spines pointing outward. When rolled up like this it is invulnerable to almost any predator. Hedgehogs are very popular with gardeners in Europe. Because of their appetite for insects, they are encouraged to live around farms and gardens. Hedgehogs are also raised and sold for pets in many places.

Just as painful and even suicidal as it is for a predator to try and make a meal out of one of the prickly mammals mentioned above, so it is for men who try to work against God. In Acts 9:5, the Lord said to Paul, just after he was struck blind on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” We should be careful that, in our zeal for God, we do not end up working against God or preventing others from doing the Lord’s work like Paul did. Just because the work is not being done the way we think it should be or through the channels we think it should be does not mean that the Lord is not leading it! “But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” Acts 5:39.

David Arbour writes from his home in DeQueen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: