Porcupine - Hystrix africaeausralis

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Afrikaans Ystervark Zulu Nungu Tswana Noko Shangaan Nungu
Photo: Kenny and Charlene Holden

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F 5cm
H 9cm

Distribution Dung
often attached

Unusual features/differences from similar animals

The body is covered by long (up to 60 cm) pliable spines and shorter (up to 25 cm) sharp quills which are raised when the porcupine is aggressive. The only similar mammal with spines is the hedgehog .

Visible Male/Female differences

Females are heavier than males.

Habitat and Distribution

All habitats (even cities) except the Namib Desert coastal strip.


A wide range of vegetable material including bulbs, roots and tubers, fruit, bark, seeds and carrion. It can be a pest in crops and gardens. Chews bones and ivory. Independent of water. Often caught in traps set for carnivores.


Porcupines are monogamous and sexual encounters are initiated by the female. Interestingly, physical contact with a male is necessary for continuation of the female oestrous cycle of 17-42 days. Litters of 1-4, most often 1-2 young are born between August and March. Only one pair in each group breeds. Non-dominant females mate but do not conceive. Mates May-December. Gestation 94 days. Births August - January with a peak in January. Litters of 1 -3 (half of litters are single) are weaned at 10-20 weeks. Young are mature at 9-18 months and full-grown at 1 year. 

Behavior and habits

Living in extended family groups, the are active at night and shelter during the day in caves, crevices or burrows. The can travel up to 16 km in a night's foraging.

Pairs are bonded by daily mating. Groups have a home range of up to 400 ha. Ranges are scent marked, more heavily by males than by females. Young will forage under the protection of their parents up to an age of at least 5 months

When threatened it erects its crest, spines and quills and growls, rattles its quills, stamps its feet. This causes the hollow quills at its tip of the tail to rattle. If further harassed it will rush backwards or sideways, trying to embed the sharp, long quills into the attacker. Lions are sometimes killed by quills festering in their bodies. The quills are not barbed and the porcupine cannot shoot them at an attacker. They are, however, only loosely rooted in the skin and they pull loose easily and stay in the target. Large numbers of quills litter an area of confrontation.

To try and remain undetected, they "freeze" when alarmed and one can get quite close to them. Porcupines are preyed on by lions in the Kalahari, and at least one pride in the Kruger National Park specializes in killing them.


Grunts, rattles the tail quills, sniffs and chatters teeth. When cornered they stamp their feet and grunt. Chewing can be heard at several meters.

Dung and Field sign

Dung is easily recognizable: it is rounded or cylindrical, 2-3 cm across, 4-7 cm long and stuck together in clumps or strings like sausages. Dung is black and contains fibers from roots and tree bark. Detached quills, diggings, debarked trees and roots, tooth marks of up to 15 cm are visible on food and bones. 


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