Why Do Porcupines Have Orange Teeth?

Discover how a porcupine's teeth help them survive in the wild and what gives them a distinct orange hue.

Jun 5, 2023By Donna Hobson
why do porcupines have orange teeth

Porcupines are known for their sharp quills, but did you know they also have orange teeth?

In this article, we'll explore the reasons behind this strange phenomenon and how it helps porcupines survive in the wild. Plus, we'll explore why porcupines aren't the only ones with orange teeth as we introduce you to other unique animals with this trait.

What Color Are Porcupine Teeth?

porcupine with orange teeth
Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/BrookfieldZoo/photos/a.115590169169/10157860040309170/?type=3

Porcupines are famous for their quills, but if you look at one closely, you may be surprised to discover that they also have orange teeth! They have 20 teeth, including four incisors for cutting and 16 molars for grinding plant materials. The two front incisors are unique in that they continue to grow like other rodents, such as squirrels and beavers. These teeth help the porcupine grind rigid plant materials into smaller pieces to feed more efficiently.

The orange color of the porcupine's teeth is because they are packed with iron, making them very strong and durable. Porcupines need to chew and bite often to survive in their environment, so having strong and sharp teeth is essential for them.

Do All Porcupines Have the Same Teeth?

Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine face
Image Source: Mexican Hairy Dwarf Porcupine (A Field Guide To The Large Wildlife In Panama) · iNaturalist

There are more than two dozen species of porcupine, all of whom have bright orange teeth to give them a strong bite. These teeth might never stop growing, but thankfully the porcupine gnaws constantly to keep them at the optimum length. Here are some of the most popular species of porcupine.

North American Porcupine (also known as the Common Porcupine)

As the name suggests, this porcupine originated in North America, where it resides in Canadian mixed-forest habitats and the northeast and western US regions. Aside from forests, porcupines will also dwell in desert shrubs, grasslands, and sometimes even tundra.

Even though porcupines are mostly ground-based, they have good climbing skills and often climb trees to search for food; occasionally, they will even build nests in trees. They are most famous for their quills, of which they possess around 30,000. Contrary to popular belief, porcupines cannot "shoot" their quills - instead, they are loosely attached to deter predators from getting too close.

If the quills do enter a predator's skin, they only move further into the skin at a rate of 1 mm per hour. Porcupines aren't generally aggressive, but if they feel threatened, they will erect their quills and unleash a barbed tail toward their attacker.

Crested Porcupine

The Crested Porcupine lives in hilly and rocky habitats within North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Italy. These omnivorous creatures eat a mixed diet of roots, bark, crops, other plant-based materials, small invertebrates, and insects. Even so, their sharp quills have been known to injure leopards, hyenas, lions, and humans.

This species of porcupine can grow to lengths of three feet and weigh more than 60 lbs. Their body is covered in bristle-like hair alongside their sharp quills, the latter of which can shed and regrow just like human hair. These quills aren't barbed; they are sharp at one end with microscopic ridges along their length.

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Mexican Hairy Dwarf Porcupine

This species of porcupine is native to various areas of Central America, including central Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, generally residing in areas of coniferous trees and mixed mountain forests. They are only 20-32 inches long but possess a prehensile tail that measures around one-third of its body length and resembles a large rat tail.

This tail allows the Mexican hairy Dwarf Porcupine to exert a better grip on branches, which converts to better mobility as it moves through the trees. Like many other rodent species, they are nocturnal and arboreal, meaning they spend many daylight hours sleeping amongst vegetation.

Asiatic Brush-Tailed Porcupine

The Asiatic Brush-Tailed Porcupine is found in several regions of southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, and China. As terrestrial creatures, they spend most of their days resting in crevices, burrows, and tree hollows, and they often create homes near bodies of water.

These porcupines are rat-like and possess a body almost entirely covered in quills - though the underparts are soft. They are just 12-24 inches long and herbivorous, meaning their diet consists entirely of plant-based matter such as fruits and vegetation.

Why Are Porcupine Teeth Orange?

porcupine with orange teeth and quills
Image Source: How Many Teeth Do Porcupines Have? - NatureNibble

Porcupines have earned a reputation for having orange teeth, but why exactly is this? It turns out that porcupines have iron in their teeth, which helps increase their strength and allows them to gnaw on wood. The iron oxide in the tooth's enamel gives it an orange hue, which makes them stand out from other animals. This iron content also helps protect the teeth from decay and breakage.

Do Other Animals Have Orange Teeth?

nutria with orange teeth
Image Source: Can Anyone Stomach This Orange-Toothed Giant Rodent? - Modern Farmer

Porcupines aren’t the only animals with orange teeth, here are some more-


Beavers are one of the largest rodents in the world, growing to more than three feet in length. They have thick fur covering their bodies, webbed feet that help them swim quickly, and a scale-covered tail which they use for balance and as a rudder when swimming. They also have an impressive ability to store food underwater by wrapping it in mud and leaves.

Beavers have orange teeth due to the presence of iron oxide in their enamel. This unique trait gives beavers a distinct advantage in their environment, as it helps them build strong teeth necessary for felling trees and building dams. The presence of iron oxide also helps build resilience and protect the teeth from wear and tear. This is why beavers have evolved to have orange teeth, allowing them to survive and thrive in their environment.


Nutria is a large, semi-aquatic rodent species native to South America. They are also known as coypu or river rats and have a body length of up to 75cm. They live in areas with abundant freshwater, such as wetlands and rivers, and have webbed hind feet that allow them to swim. Nutrias are herbivorous animals, mainly feeding on aquatic plants, grasses, and grains.

Like other rodents, nutria have an extra layer of enamel on their teeth, which helps them to chew through tough plant matter as they are herbivores. This extra layer contains iron oxide, which gives the teeth an orange hue. This makes it easier for them to chew through tough vegetation. Interestingly, these little creatures can chew through 10 times more plant matter than they eat!

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.