Facts about Porcupines

Published: 22nd September 2008
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Cape Porcupine

Latin Name: Hystrix africaeaustralis

Derivation of Name:
The name or word "Porcupine" comes from the French word "porc- Ñpique" (thorny pig).

Weight: Both males and females weigh 20kg to 25kg.

Lifespan: 12 to 14 years.

Gestation Period: 3 Months.

Porcupines are found in woodland, savannah and forest biomes as well as rocky outcrops. They often take shelter in aardvark (Antbear) burrows which they modify to make more comfortable.

Porcupines are primarily nocturnal, moving alone or in small groups of 5 or 6 individuals.
The porcupine is Africa's largest rodent. It is believed that they are capable of "shooting" their quills, but this is not the case. When the porcupine sees predators such as lion, leopard or hyena it will often "freeze", in the hope that it won't be noticed. If confronted, it turns its back towards the predator, often running backwards resulting in a face pierced and filled with quills.

If given the chance it will crawl into a burrow face first only to expose its sharp quills, making it rather difficult for predator to dislodge them. Their quills are hollow and exceptionally sharp and upon losing them, they re-grow. The porcupine shakes its tail quills to create a rattling sound as a threatening distraction to predators. They are also capable of erecting all their quills outwards to make themselves' look larger and more intimidating.

Porcupines feed mainly on roots and tubers, which they dig out with relative ease using their strongly built claws. They also eat the bark from trees which chew and tear off with their sharp incisors. Other food sources include the fallen fruit from trees, carrion which is ideal for protein, as well as bones which they gnaw on for the extra calcium and phosphorous intake.
Bones are often taken back to the burrow to feed on at leisure.

The porcupine's stomach is filled with symbiotic microorganisms which help break down the plants eaten into a usable form.

The female, at night, initiates courtship by presenting herself to the male. Mating takes place with the female's quills flattened against her body and her tail raised to allow for safer copulation.

Before giving birth the female lines the chamber of the burrow with grass to create a comfortable nest.

After a 3 month gestation, she gives birth to between 1 and 3 youngsters. The youngsters suckle off the mother for approximately 3 weeks before they start eating solids, but are still dependant on the mother for at least another 3 months.

Unlike most mammals, the male also helps the female in taking care of the young.

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