Indian crested porcupine

Hystrix indica

SUBFAMILY

Hystricinae

TAXONOMY

Hystrix indica Kerr, 1792, India. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Indian porcupine, long-tailed porcupine. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Subgenus Hystrix is distinguished externally from other genera by relatively larger size, shorter tail and presence of rattle quills. Head and body length is 27.6-35.4 in (70-90 cm) in length and tail length 3.2-3.9 in (8-10 cm). Weight is 24.3-39.7 lb (11-18 kg). Short, high head has long, spiny head-neck mane whose length can be up to 16 in (40 cm). Hair is modified to form multiple layers of spines. Beneath longer, thinner spines lies layer of thicker and shorter ones. Each spine is colored black or brown, with alternating white bands. Spines vary in length, with shoulder and neck spines being the longest, measuring 5.9-11.8 in (15-30 cm). Sides and back half of body covered with cylindrical, stout spines up to 13.8 in (35 cm) long and generally marked with alternating dark and light bands. Others may be longer, and more slender and flexible, usually white. Tail is covered with shorter white spines. Among these, are longer, hollow, thin-walled rattling quills that are used to alarm enemies. Many quills vibrate together to produce hiss-like rattle. Rattle quills are better developed than with other subgenera. Hands and feet are broad, with four well-developed digits on fore feet, each with a thick, long claw used for burrowing, and five digits on hind feet. Eyes and external ears are small. Facial region of skull is inflated by pneumatic cavities, and nasal bones are enlarged.

DISTRIBUTION

Throughout southeast and central Asia and in parts of the Middle East, including such countries as India, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

HABITAT

Highly adaptable to multiple environments. Although favoring rocky hillsides, also found in temperate and tropical scrublands, grasslands, and forests. Also found throughout Himalayan mountains, reaching up to elevations of 7,875 ft (2,400 m). Shelter is usually in caves, rock crevices, or burrows usually dug by themselves or by other animals. Burrows with a long entrance tunnel often have several entrances and a large inner chamber, are sometimes used for many years, and can become extensive.

BEHAVIOR

Generally, nocturnal (but avoids moonlight) and terrestrial. Does not usually climb trees but does swim well. Normal gait is a heavy walk in which it walks on soles of feet with heel touching ground. It often trots or gallops when alarmed. It tends to follow paths and may cover up to 9 mi (15 km) per night in search of food. May remain in dens through winter but does not hibernate. Small groups often share a burrow.

Piping calls and pig-like grunts have been reported. There is considerable grunting and quill rattling as they forage by night. At the first encounter with another animal (such as when irritated or alarmed), they raise, fan, and rattle hollow quills, thereby more than doubling apparent size. If disturbance continues, may launch a backward attack and charge its rear against offending animal. Action can drive spines deep into enemy, often leading to injury or death. Short quills that are hidden beneath longer, thinner spines on tail and back do most damage. Quite often, these quills become dislodged and remain in victim. Injuries and fatalities of tigers, hyenas, leopards, and other animals have been recorded.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Generally herbivores consuming vegetable material of all kinds, including fruits, cultivated and natural grains, roots, tubers, bark, rhizomes, bulbs, and crops. Occasionally eat insects, small vertebrates, and carrion. Known to chew on bones, in search of minerals (such as calcium) that help spines grow and to sharpen incisor teeth. Generally forage alone except when parents accompany young.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Gestation, on average, lasts 112 days. Litter size varies, ranging from one to four offspring per year (usually one to two), normally born in grass-lined chamber within burrow. Well-developed young are born with eyes open and short soft quills covering body. Birth weight is around 12 oz (340 g). Nursing lasts about 3.5 months. Usually monogamous, with both parents found in burrow with offspring throughout year.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. Throughout its range, it is common and does not face significant threat. Adaptability to wide range of habitats and food types helps ensure population sustainability.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Throughout its range, hunted as food source. Seeds and pollen are spread with its activities as herbivore. Eats crop plants extensively, thus leading to significant agricultural loss. Burrowing through or consuming plants and vegetation in gardens and landscaping often is destructive. Can cause medical problems as well as injuries to humans and pets from contact with quills. ♦

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