No one can deny the similarities that hedgehogs, porcupines, and echidnas share when it comes to how they look—that’s the main reason so many people confuse them!
In today’s hedgehog vs porcupine vs echidna comparison, we’ll discuss the similarities and differences between each of these prickly mammals to help you tell them apart.
First things first, let’s get the classification of these animals out of the way.
These spiny mammals belong to the family Erinaceidae, specifically the subfamily Erinaceinae.
New World porcupines are rodents (mammals) belonging to the family Erethizontidae, divided into 5 genera: Echinoprocta, Chaetomys, Erethizon, Coendou, and Sphiggurus. Old World porcupines are classed under the family Hystricidae.
Part of the family Tachyglossidae, echidnas are egg-laying mammals (monotremes).
Now, we’ll address the difference in appearance between hedgehogs, porcupines, and echidnas.
Most hedgehog species have bodies with a two-toned look.
Typically, hedgehogs show a dark brown shade on their backs, but their underbellies and faces are a cream color. Their spikes are a mixture of brown and cream.
The snout on a hedgehog is cone-shaped, not elongated like enchiladas or non-protruding like porcupines.
Additionally, hedgehogs have tiny feet with almost no visible nails or claws.
The body of a porcupine tends to be single color throughout its length, except for the highlights in the quills.
It has a small head with a squared face featuring a non-protruding snout, unlike hedgehogs and echidnas.
This slow-moving mammal has small eyes and ears. It has claws on its feet to help in climbing trees, but they’re as strong or shape-adapted as echidnas’ claws.
The body of an echidna is a solid color all over with only the tips of its quills showing a light cream shade. This color scheme is similar to porcupines, but is easily distinguishable from the bi-color patterns of hedgehogs.
Echidnas have larger feet than hedgehogs yet are comparable in size to those of porcupines.
Unlike the other two species, however, echidnas possess five flattened claws on each of the front feet to support their lifestyle of digging, tearing, and scraping. They also have backward-curved claws on their hind legs to push the soil away while burrowing.
One particular aspect that sets echidnas apart is their long and slender snouts that resemble an ant eater’s snout.
Now that you’re familiar with the way each animal looks, we’ll move on to the size.
When we say size, we’re referring to the length and weight of the animals. These parameters may not seem that big of a deal since most people believe that hedgehogs, porcupines, and echidnas are essentially the same size.
However, you’ll find the size to be a particularly differentiating factor between hedgehogs and the other two mammals—and to a lesser yet still notable extent, between porcupines and echidnas as well.
Here’s a breakdown of the details:
The average length of an adult hedgehog’s body and head ranges between a minimum of 4 inches to a maximum of 12 inches. Their tails measure around 2 to 3 inches of extra length.
As for how heavy hedgehogs are, the total body weight of an adult hedgehog ranges from 2 pounds up to 5 pounds. This makes them the most lightweight contender in today’s comparison.
The average length of an adult porcupine’s body and head ranges between a minimum of 20 inches to a maximum of 36 inches. Additionally, their tails measure around 8 to 10 inches long.
The total body weight of an adult porcupine ranges from a minimum of 10 pounds up to 35 pounds. As you can tell, porcupines can get pretty heavy compared to the other two members of the spiky squad.
The average length of an adult echidna ranges from a minimum of 18 inches to a maximum of 30 inches. Their tails make for an extra length of around 3 or 4 inches.
As for weight, echidnas range between 6 pounds to 22 pounds. They aren’t nearly as lightweight as hedgehogs, but they can’t get as heavy as porcupines.
Next, let’s have a closer look and the coat and quills on these pointy animals to see how they differ from one another.
The compact body of a hedgehog has an average of 5,000 quills or spines covering its whole surface, except for the face and underbelly. This means it has the least number of spikes compared to porcupines or echidnas.
The average length of the hedgehog’s barbless quills (not rooted into the skin like in porcupines) is around 1 inch. The tips are a light cream creating a frosty look.
Covering their bodies, porcupines have a dark undercoat layer with white or yellow guard hairs and yellow hollow quills on top. The soft, silky hair of a porcupine is paired with sharp quills, distributed across the back, sides, and tail.
The quills of a porcupine are large in size and number compared to hedgehogs and echidnas. The average healthy porcupine can possess up to 30,000 quills throughout its body.
Porcupines developed quills as a defense mechanism against predators by modifying hairs to become around 2 to 3 inches of stiff sharpness. In some species, such as the African Crested porcupine, the quills can grow over 1 foot long!
When threatened, the quills of porcupines lower to a flat position before flaring out. If the quills make contact with another animal, they’ll easily detach from the porcupine’s body.
Unlike porcupines with their 3-layered coats, echidnas have coats made up of 2 layers; a fur layer (colored black, honey, or reddish brown) and a spine/hair layer.
Researchers are yet to provide an accurate estimation for the number of spines on an echidna, but they’re no less than a few thousand.
They do know, however, that their spines are barbless modified hairs made out of keratin. These spines cover the entire back and sides of an echidna’s body, reaching the very top of the head.
Echidnas have more spines than fur, where the latter provides insulation for the animal. Among the spines, you can find normal soft hairs.
In this section, you’ll discover the difference in location and origin of each of the three animals.
Originally from Europe and the northern regions of Africa, you can now find wild hedgehogs in Asia, Eurasia, and South Africa too. As such, these animals are more widespread than echidnas, but comparable to porcupines.
When it comes to their habitat preference, hedgehogs like to stay in wet or damp environments, such as coastal forests and moorlands.
Native to North America, porcupines are also spread throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. They’re mostly concentrated in the western and northeastern regions of the United States. Although, they also appear in Canada and Alaska.
Their habitat preference includes deserts, forests, hilltops, and rocky hillocks.
Echidnas are only found in Australia and New Guinea. Places such as King Island, Flinders Island, Tasmania, and Kangaroo Island feature these animals in significant numbers too.
As for their habitat preference, echidnas like to live in mountainous areas and high-elevation forests. They often seek shelter from harsh weather elements inside caves, cracks, and dense vegetation.
In this section, we’ll talk about the general temperament and behavior of today’s prickly mammals.
As an exclusively nocturnal species, hedgehogs are active at night. They don’t borrow or dig into the ground for shelter. Instead, they build nests.
This spiny creature generally leads a solo lifestyle, only seeking the company of its kind during the breeding season.
These large rodents are slow movers due to their poor vision. Similar to hedgehogs, porcupines are nocturnal animals, so they’re most active at night.
When it’s hot outside, porcupines will spend their time resting in trees. Although they aren’t a territorial bunch, the home range of porcupines can stretch over an area of up to 200 acres.
Unlike hedgehogs and echidnas, porcupines aren’t solitary. They live in complex burrow systems where each family is made up of five to six individuals.
Echidnas aren’t exclusively nocturnal. Most of their species become nocturnal only during the summer to escape the day’s heat.
As avid burrows, echidnas will burrow into the ground to cool down when the temperatures are rising.
Despite leading a solitary lifestyle, echidnas aren’t territorial. They have no issues sharing habitats with other members of the same species.
What happens when hedgehogs, porcupines, or echidnas feel threatened? This section will tell you.
As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs curl their bodies into a ball with spines covering their exterior.
Unlike hedgehogs and echidnas, porcupines don’t roll up into a ball in risky situations.
Instead, they puff up their backs and point their quills at the danger. They’ll often pair this with tail waving so they can hit the predator with their quills.
It’s a misconception that porcupines shoot quills at threats. However, the quills will easily separate from their bodies and stick to the predator with the lightest touch.
When they’re faced with a potential predator, echidnas will curl their bodies into a ball of quills to deter unwanted touching.
Do people keep any of these spiky animals as pets? Let’s find out!
More and more people are becoming interested in hedgehogs as pets. They’re cute to look at, fun to interact with, and intriguing to observe.
Compared to porcupines or echidnas, the quills on hedgehogs are much shorter and less dangerous.
Additionally, unlike conventional pets, such as dogs and cats, hedgehogs offer a sense of being exotic and unique.
Some folks keep porcupines as pets in states that allow such ownership. You should be skilled and patient enough to safely handle this spiky rodent before you even think about getting one as a pet.
In countries where echidnas are found in the wild, it’s prohibited for people to keep them as pets.
Finally, let’s see how long hedgehogs, porcupines, and echidnas tend to stick around.
Compared to the other two mammals, hedgehogs have the shortest lifespan.
In the wild, hedgehogs live between 3 to 8 years on average. In captivity, this range can be extended to reach 10 years.
One of the longest-living species of rodents, porcupines usually live between 5 to 7 years in the wild. In a zoo environment, they can for 5, 10, or even 20 more years.
At 32 years old, Cooper the porcupine of the Museum of science is both the oldest recorded porcupine and the oldest recorded rodent.
The average lifespan of an echidna in the wild is around 10 years. However, sometimes they can grow as old as 15 to 40 years!
Generally speaking, the life expectancy of echidnas is a lot longer compared to that of porcupines.
There you have it, a comprehensive hedgehog vs porcupine vs echidna comparison to help you identify each of the spiky mammals on the spot.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. I have a wife and two children and love taking them to the zoo to see all the animals. I grew up with dogs and fish and now have two dogs and two cats. I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.