Have you ever wondered about animals that have spikes on their bodies? Spikes and spines help protect animals from predators in clever ways. Let’s look at some of the coolest spike-covered creatures on Earth!
One of the most famous spiky animals is the hedgehog. Hedgehogs are small mammals found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. They have bodies covered in stiff, sharp spines made of keratin (the same protein that makes up your fingernails!).
When a predator like a fox tries to attack, the hedgehog curls up into a tight ball. Its spines stick out in every direction, making it impossible for the predator to get past them and bite the hedgehog. Pretty smart, right?
Hedgehogs can have up to 7,000 spines covering their backs! Even though the spines provide great defence, hedgehogs are still vulnerable when uncurled and walking around. The spines also make it tricky for male hedgehogs to get close to females without poking them. Ouch!
Under the sea, you’ll find all kinds of animals covered in spikes and spines. One of the spikiest is the sea urchin. These small, round animals are related to starfish and sand dollars. They move very slowly along the ocean floor using hundreds of tiny, tube-shaped feet.
Sea urchins have a hard shell covered in moveable spines that lie flat against the body. If a predator like an octopus gets too close, the sea urchin quickly points its spines outward. This makes it almost impossible for the predator to bite or grab the urchin. The spines can also deliver a painful sting if touched. This helps scare away any curious fish looking for a snack!
Sea urchins use their spines to anchor themselves firmly to rocks so they don’t get swept away by waves. The spines come in handy for protection but can break off easily. Luckily, they grow back quickly!
When you think of spiky critters, the porcupine comes to mind. Found throughout North America, Africa, and Asia, these rodents are covered in over 30,000 sharp quills!
A porcupine’s quills are modified hairs made from the same material as hair and feathers – keratin. But their dense matrix of tiny barbs make them excellent defence tools. When a predator comes along, the porcupine turns its back and raises its quills. If the attacker continues, dozens of quills can detach and get painfully lodged in the predator’s face or body. Ouch!
Interestingly, porcupines don’t shoot their quills – this is a myth! They detach upon contact. And don’t worry, their quills grow back just like ordinary hairs. What an effective spike system!
Now, let’s travel down under to Australia and meet the echidna. This unique egg-laying mammal is sometimes called the spiny anteater. It has a long, tubular snout perfect for slurping up ants and termites.
The echidna’s back and sides are covered in thick, sharp spines of modified hairs. When threatened by predators like dingos, the echidna curls up into a ball, leaving only its spiny armour exposed. The echidna can also dig itself rapidly into the dirt or leaf litter to hide using its long, powerful claws.
Female echidnas carry their babies, called puggles, in a special pouch on their underside. Luckily, the spines on an echidna’s belly are shorter and less sharp than their back, making it safer for puggle transport!
One of the strangest-looking spike-covered creatures is the thorny dragon from Australia. This small lizard gets its name from the thorn-like spikes that cover its entire upper body. These spikes are made of long, pointy scales that help camouflage the thorny dragon in scrub brush environments.
When threatened, the thorny dragon first tries to hide by pressing its spiky body flat against the ground. If that doesn’t work, it will puff itself up to appear even spikier and more difficult to swallow. This usually makes predators think twice about attacking!
Thorny dragons also have a false head on the back of their neck to trick predators. When a predator strikes what it thinks is the lizard’s head, it gets a mouthful of sharp spikes instead. These crafty lizards sure know how to use spikes for survival!
Beware the spikes of the lionfish! This flashy fish lives in warm ocean waters and has rows of venomous spines and fanlike pectoral fins along its back. Any predator that tries to eat a lionfish is in for a nasty surprise – those thin spikes can deliver an excruciating sting if touched.
Lionfish use their dazzling colours and huge fan fins to intimidate other smaller fish. They take cover in crevices and corals, waiting to ambush prey that gets too close. With few natural predators, thanks to their painful spines, lionfish can maintain control of the best hunting spots.
Unfortunately, lionfish have become a major invasive species in the Caribbean and are gobbling up native fish. Their spines and rapid reproduction make them difficult to control, so they continue to spread up the US coast. Always steer clear of the dangerous spikes of lionfish!
Crown of Thorns Starfish
Don’t be fooled by the beautiful name – the crown of thorns starfish is covered in venomous spikes! This large starfish lives on coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, feeding on coral polyps. Its body is covered in thousands of stiff, pointy spines containing venom-filled glands.
When the crown of thorns starfish comes in contact with predators or divers, those sharp spines can stab into flesh and pump toxins that cause intense pain, swelling, or even nausea. Get stung by several spines at once, and you’ll be in serious trouble! The crown of thorns relies on these needle-like spikes for defence as it slowly devours coral colonies.
To control major outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef, divers carefully inject them one by one with sodium bisulphate. This biodegradable solution kills the predatory starfish without harming the reef.
Spiny Bush Viper
Meet the spiny bush viper, a venomous snake from sub-Saharan Africa with pretty intense spikes! Its small, triangular body has keeled scales that resemble spines running down the length of its back. The large scales stick out to form two rows of prominent spikes.
Those scary-looking spines help the spiny bush viper blend into leafy vegetation, ambushing prey like rats, lizards, and amphibians. The markings on its scales can be reddish, yellow, grey, or brown to match its habitat. If the spikes don’t scare you, watch out for this viper’s potentially deadly venomous fangs!
While the spiny bush viper looks freaky, its spikes are actually soft and flexible. The largest spikes are found at the base of the tail intriangular ridges. These help the snake anchor itself on branches where it waits for unsuspecting rodents. With its sneaky hunting skills and built-in camouflage, this viper doesn’t need to use its spikes for direct defence very often!
Spiny Oak Slug
The spiny oak slug is a creepy-crawly covered in stinging spikes! This small black caterpillar has bright yellow spikes all over its back that deliver painful venom if touched. This little bug in the eastern United States eats leaves from oak, willow, and basswood trees.
When disturbed, the spiny oak slug tucks in its head and curls its body into a ball, pointing all its spikes and bristles outward for protection. Not only do predators get stung if they try to eat this prickly caterpillar, but some people have severe allergic reactions to the venom, so don’t touch it!
Luckily, the adult moths they turn into are spike-free. Those irksome spikes seem specially designed to help them survive the larval stage of life. That’s some smart spike engineering by nature!
Greater Madagascar Tenrec
Found only on the African island of Madagascar, the greater Madagascar tenrec looks like a cross between a hedgehog and an otter. It has a long body, short legs, and a pointy snout perfect for rooting around leaf litter for insect prey. But watch out – it’s covered in spikes!
The greater Madagascar tenrec has yellowish-brown spines that run from the top of its head down its back. Even its underside and tail have rows of short, stiff quills. These help protect it against predators like birds of prey.
When threatened, the tenrec curls into a tight ball, leaving only its spiny armour visible. It can also release an unpleasant musky scent from its glands to deter predators. But that’s not all this creature is equipped with – the tenrec has powerful jaws and claws it uses for self-defence, too! With all those spikes, smells, teeth, and claws, it’s no wonder this odd little tenrec has survived for over 20 million years!