Although the word "porcupine" means "quill pig" in Latin, porcupines are actually large rodents and have no relation to pigs. Different types of porcupines can be found around the world, each one adapted for their region.
The African crested porcupine is a doozy. It is the largest of all porcupines and its uniquely designed quills make for a spectacular sight.
Photo: Vikki Graston
Though quills are porcupines' signature defense, they do not all look or work the same. For example, North American porcupine quills are barbed, which is key to their effectiveness as they embed themselves into a predator's skin. The African crested porcupine quills, on the other hand, can be up to 13 inches long, are very sturdy and are pointed.
The African crested porcupine uses sight, sound and physical attack as a defense. The first strategy is for the porcupine to appear larger by raising up its long quills on its head and back. The next is sound. The tail quills are hollow and when shaken, make an impressive rattle sound. The porcupine may also stamp its feet and click its teeth to add to the menacing sound.
If all else fails, it will run backward and attack the predator with the very thick short quills on its backside. Porcupines have been known to injure lions, leopards, hyenas and even humans with this strategy.
Though quills come in quite handy for defense, they can make mating a bit of a thorny challenge. The male adapts a unique position to get the job done. African crested porcupines are monogamous and the babies have arguably the cutest name in the animal kingdom -- porcupettes.
The Pueblo Zoo's couple, Lance and Asha, have been successful parents several times over, producing 6 babies together while Lance has fathered 15 in total.
The porcupettes are born with their eyes open and with soft quills. The quills start to harden in about a week, which is when they start to leave the nest.
Though there are currently no babies to be seen, guests can visit Lance and Asha and get a look at their impressive quills at the new African painted dog exhibit at the southwest end of the zoo.
Just the Facts:
Scientific name: Hystrix africaeaustralis
Common name: South African crested porcupine, Cape porcupine
Description: The South African porcupine, along with its northern counterpart, is the largest of all porcupines worldwide. Despite their size, these rodents can outrun humans if necessary.
Compared to their North American cousins who weigh in around 20 pounds, Cape porcupines can be two to three times the size. They are also the largest rodents found in all of Africa and are terrestrial, instead of arboreal like those found in North or South America.
Their quills are long, black and white, and are made of the same material human fingernails and hairs are made of-- keratin. It is a common misconception that porcupines can intentionally shoot their quills as a defense. Quills are essentially enlarged hairs and are shed or fall out like most hair. When these quills are engaged in a defensive motion, they can make the porcupine appear twice its actual size. This defense leaves potential predators like lions and hyenas hungry.
South African crested porcupines are nocturnal.
Diet: These porcupines are herbivores, eating fruit, roots and tubers.
Range: Central and Southern Africa
Habitat: Savannah areas with vegetation
Reproduction and rearing: Females give birth to one litter of one to four porcupettes per year. Gestation lasts about 16 weeks. Porcupettes live with both their parents for several months until they are able to leave and start their own families. They nurse for 3-4 months, although they begin to eat an adult diet of fruits and roots around one month old.
Lifespan: 12-15 years
Threats: South African crested porcupines are classified as least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Human intervention, specifically from farmers who find these large rodents digging crops to be a nuisance, is the main reason for any population decline.
References: marylandzoo.org; cincinnatizoo.org
-- Heather Dewey