South African porcupine

Hystrix africaeaustralis




Africae australis Peters, 1852, Mozambique. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: South African crested porcupine, Cape porcupine.


Largest rodent in their region, with weight of 39.7-66.1 lb (18-30 kg). Relatively larger with longer, heavier quills than Hystrix cristata (North African porcupine). Tail is shorter compared to other species. Females are, on average, about 2.2 lb (1 kg) heavier than males and both sexes can be of body length 2.3-2.8 ft (71-84 cm) long and tail length up to 1 in (2.5 cm). Sense of hearing and smell is unusually sharp. Body is stout, with sharp quills up to 11.8 in (30 cm) long on its back. Flat, black, bristly hairs cover the body. Difference between quills and spines is largely one of length and thickness, with spines up to 19.7 in (50 cm) long and quills up to 11.8 in (30 cm) long. White and black crest of spines and quills can be voluntarily erected to make animal look enlarged and threatening. Specialized quills on tail are larger and hollow at the tips; used to make rattling (hissing) sound when shaken, often to warn potential enemies. Such sharp, backward-curving quills may be driven into enemy when moving backward toward enemy. Spines and quills come off when touched by predator or shaken off, but grow back quickly. Also have long whiskers. Facial region of skull is inflated by pneumatic cavities, and nasal bones are enlarged.


Despite its name, only found in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the coastal desert of the southwest: basically the southern half of Africa up to 11,480 ft (3,500 m).


Found from sea level to 6,560 ft (2,000 m) above sea level in most areas with vegetation such as forests and savannas. Prefer rocky hills and outcrops, and must have shelter during day, often in caves or holes. Builds dens that can be up to 65.6 ft (20 m) long with a 6.6 ft-deep (2 m) living chamber near center.


Primarily nocturnal, although may be seen during day. Generally, either solitary creatures or living in small family groups, clans of up to six family members in which both parents give long-term care to young. Burrows are often dug in order to spend day hours inside, coming out at night to feed. Use an alternating gait when walking slowly and trot when running, able to swim fairly well and can climb if necessary. Very acute hearing and will freeze when approached by predators, such as big cats, large predatory birds, or hyenas. When cornered, can be aggressive, often running sideways or backwards to embed sharp quills in attacker. Cannot throw quills, but may become dislodged when hollow rattling quills are shaken. Defensive behavior is often to hide in their holes facing in and erect their spines so that they cannot be dislodged.


Mostly vegetarian, using strong digging claws to find roots, tubers, and bulbs. Also fond of fallen fruits, thistles, a variety of plants, leaves, and will sometimes gnaw on bark. Cultivated crops such as corn, sweet potatoes, pineapples, sugar cane, young cocoa and oil palms, bamboo, melons, and onions are eaten. Anterior large intestine and enlarged appendix contain microorganisms that break down undigested plant fibers. Also eat carrion in some cases. In areas deficient in phosphorous they gnaw on bones, often accumulating piles of bones in dens.


Males reach sexual maturity between eight and 18 months, while females reach sexual maturity between nine and 16 months. Because of dangerous quills, females initiate copulation by presenting to males. Estrous cycle is about 35 days, and gestation lasts for a little over three months (93-105 days). Young are born in litters of one to four (usually one to two) normally twice a year, usually within grass-lined chamber in parents' den during wet months of August to March. Average newborn weight is 12.4 oz (351 g), but can range from 10.6-14.1 oz (300-400 g). Young are born relatively well developed, with eyes open and teeth present, quills and spines are soft (most likely to ease birthing process) but quickly harden within two weeks. Young can feed on solids from birth and grow rapidly, reaching full size in about one year. Nursing occurs on average of 101 days (but can range from three to four months) at which point young will weigh 8.8-11 lb (4-5 kg). Females have two to three pairs of teats in two rows located behind shoulders, on side of chest. After weaning of young, females cannot conceive for another three to five months. Life span can be 12-15 years in wild.


Not threatened. Generally, throughout its range, it is common and does not face significant threat. Adaptability to wide range of habitats and food types helps protect healthy populations. Its main predators are humans and large cats.


Meat is highly prized by local peoples. Porcupines eat vegetable crops and are destructive feeders. ♦

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