Unusual features/differences from similar
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
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
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
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.