Prehensiletailed porcupines

Coendou prehensilis

SUBFAMILY

Erethizontinae

TAXONOMY

Coendou prehensilis (Linnaeus, 1758), Pernambuco, Brazil. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Cuandu; German: Greifstachler, Cuandu; Spanish: Coendú grande, puerco-espín.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

An adult can range from about 3 to 4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) in length with half of that total in the tail, and about 9-12 lb (4-5.5 kg) in weight. Grayish to yellowish brown, mainly short-spined porcupine with a typically whitish face and small, black, and long, prehensile tail. The last third of the tail is unspined on its upper surface, providing a smooth contact point for wrapping around even thin branches. The long-clawed toes also aid its arboreal lifestyle. The young are uniquely orangish brown to brown with longer fur that somewhat hides the spines.

DISTRIBUTION

Eastern South America from eastern Venezuela and Trinidad to northeastern Argentina and Uruguay.

HABITAT

Typically found in vine-covered rainforests, but also occurs in farmed areas, gardens drier forests near a water source.

BEHAVIOR

Prehensile-tailed porcupines spend the bulk of their time high in the trees, but since they do not leap from tree to tree, they travel from trunk to trunk on the ground. They normally move rather slowly, but can speed up if necessary. The long, prehensile tail combines with padded, clawed feet to make them excellent climbers. During the day, they sleep in a supportive clump of vegetation in the canopy.

Adults are typically solitary animals, but they do coexist peacefully with conspecifics on occasion. When threatened by a predator, they take on a defensive pose, sometimes rolling into a ball and raising their quills, and will occasionally lunge at an attacker with spines erect. Other displays include foot-stomping, spine-shaking, and threatening snarls and grunts. They also call back and forth with one another via long, moans. During breeding periods, the male commonly sprays urine on the female. He also will occasionally spray newborns.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

These nocturnal, sometimes late-day, feeders are vegetarians, commonly dining on fruits and seeds, but also stems, leaves, roots, and bark.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Little is known about mating interactions. Reproduce about every seven months. Although no species-wide seasonal schedule exists, births in some areas spike during the rainy season. Following a gestation period of 195 to 210 days, a female will have one offspring per year, after which she almost immediately mates again. The young are precocial, weaning in about three months, and reaching adult size at about 11 months old and sexual maturity at approximately 19 months.

One female of the species is reported to have produced 10 litters in 8.5 years and still was reproductively active at an estimated age of 11.5 years. A captive C. prehensilis lived for 17 years and four months.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Minor use as food. Sometimes regarded as a pest in agricultural areas. ♦

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