Porcupines are extremely numerous in every part of the Island, yet are not often seen, owing to their strictly nocturnal habits. The Sinhalese call them ittaewa, and the Tamils mul-pandi, which means "spine pig." They are found in all kinds of forest, generally alone, but sometimes in pairs. They lie all day in their burrows under rocks or in hollow trees or ant-hill holes and sally out to feed in the night. Their chief food is roots and fruit, and they are a curse to natives who have opened gardens near their haunts. Very little in the way of food comes amiss to them however. Shed deer horns even may sometimes be picked up, of which all but the burrs had been gnawed away by their sharp teeth.
Full-grown ones stand nine to twelve inches hiirh and weigh from 25 to 30 lbs., but their quills make them look larger than they really are. The "fretful porpentine" is a most excitable, irritable creature, and its scientific name, hystrix, if slightly mispronounced seems most appropriate. They are not at all timid, and if attacked by dogs will shew fight, running at them with a sidelong motion with all their quills up. A dog which has come into contact with one ever afterwards shews a marked disinclination to try conclusions with another. Natives believe that porcupines shoot their quills at their assailants. They are about the most mischievous and capricious of animals as they will cut a fresh gap in a fence every night to get into a plantation. They are great diggers but are not cunning enough to make more than one entrance to their burrows and are consequently easily unearthed. The female brings up her young underground. They are born with eyes open and are covered with short soft spines. The natives believe that the mother carries water for her young in her tail-quills.
Porcupines make amusing pets but are usually a great nuisance. If tethered near a wall they will dig great holes undermining it. If put into a wooden cage they will soon escape by gnawing through the planks or bars. They will feed with and keep on good terms with pigs in a sty. A dead porcupine "plucked " for cooking has a strange honeycombed appearance. The meat is excellent and resembles pork. Boxes made of quills are sold by the hundred in Colombo.