Porcupines Give You 30,000 Reasons to Back Off | Deep Look

You can now support Deep Look on Patreon. Details after the show. Razor Sharp. Designed to impale. And next to impossible
to remove. The fearsome creature that wields these weapons? Aw, look at that face. A North American Porcupine may be slow, but
she doesn’t have much to worry about as she plods along, looking for tasty leaves
and bark or munching on acorns. She can take her time. That’s because she’s packing 30,000 piercing
quills. But hold on, those white things aren’t quills,
they’re just extra long hairs, decoys to make her look even more spikey. The real quills are underneath. They’re white too, but usually hidden under
that dark fur. Most animals learn – do not mess with porcupines. A porcupine normally keeps its quills flat
against its body. But when threatened, it bristles, showing
off an area on her backside where the quills are the densest, called the rosette. And it stinks. The quills are coated in a thick grease that
puts off a pungent, musky smell, unique to porcupines, that says “back off.” But if that’s not enough… She uses her tail to slap anyone who gets
too close. Watch this… She didn’t shoot her quills out – that’s
a myth. The quills don’t release easily unless they
hit something and get pushed in first. They’re super sharp – sharper than this
hypodermic needle. And check out the tip – it’s covered in
microscopic, backward-facing barbs. When you try to remove it the barbs fan out,
keeping the quill lodged in. Yowch. If you get them in a unlucky place, like your
mouth, That makes it hard to, you know… live. But even though they’re super painful, getting
stuck with a quill doesn’t usually lead to infection. The quill’s grease acts like a natural antibiotic,
inhibiting the growth of some dangerous bacteria. Maybe it’s because porcupines are actually
pretty clumsy. They’ve been known to accidentally quill
themselves, falling out of a tree maybe. Researchers at Harvard are now looking at
these quills for inspiration. Surgical staples that doctors use to close
wounds curve in under the skin to stay put. That causes damage on the way in and leaves
room for bacteria to take hold. So what about a staple with barbs like a porcupine
quill? It could make a smaller wound and stay put
without curving. That could keep infection out, and speed up
healing time. Then it just dissolves. Pretty sharp, right? That’s something about this spiky, little
fuzzball that anyone could love. Hey. A couple things before you go… Did you know that every single Deep Look episode
has original music? Come on over to our Patreon site to meet our
composer, Seth Samuel, and hear how he creates the music for the show. Also – definitely check out Sound Field, a
new show about music from our partner network, PBS Digital Studios. Sound Field breaks down our favorite songs
from Bach to Beyoncé. Links in the description. Thanks.

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