Photo credit: Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA
The porcupine family is a highly varied thing. There are a total of 11 species of old world porcupines (Africa and Asia and Europe) and a total of 20 species in the Americas (new world)
Firstly the old world Porcupines: Family Hystricidae
African brush-tail porcupine
This is a species of rat-like porcupine, found in a broad belt of Equatorial Africa, right across the continent from Guinea to Kenya.
40-50cm long and weighing 3kg, with short legs and long body, it does look like a very large rat (without a long tail). It has webbed feet, and light small quills, which are thinner and more like a brush on the tail. It makes a rattling noise when it moves.
Living in family groups of around 8 (they are not territorial and will share ranges with other groups) they defend themselves, like other porcupines by charging backwards. They are herbivorous, eating leaves, flowers and fruits from the forest floor. They also eat roots and palm nuts. They are happy to eat from carrion (dead animals) be it the remains of a kill, or simply deceased animals. They will also happily invade crops of maize, cassava and bananas to feed, when these are close to the forest. Pregnancy lasts 110 days, and young are fully developed at 2 years old, and can live to around 13 years.
Despite it being used extensively for bushmeat – it is popular, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated its conservation status as being of “least concern”. At the current time, it appears that the bushmeat trade is not overly pressuring the population, as it has not apparently gone even locally extinct. Still, the population should be watched, as if the amount consumed were to increase, this chould change quickly.
Asiatic brush-tail porcupine
It is a nocturnal (and a good digger, spending much of its time under ground) occurring in subtropical and tropical montane forests. It is found on the forest floor, often in areas with profuse undergrowth.
It makes burrows, which may be occupied by up to three animals. The female produces one or two litters a year, of a single young, after a gestation period of around 100 days.
Known to be one of the rarest porcupines in South Asia, the species is protected under Schedule II of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, though bizarrely not listed in CITES. It has been recorded from Namdapha National Park in India. It is present in a number of protected areas in Southeast Asia.
Studies have found that while it usually looks for food at night (usually for 3 hours after midnight) this behaviour is affected by other animals, which if present in its vicinity, will mean it will only be active at dawn and dusk. They eat similar things to their African cousins (species to the left.
They are hunted for both bushmeat and their quills, but again are currently listed as least concern. This population should also be watched to make sure that this does not change.
Below is a video of this species in the wild
The Cape porcupine (also called Cape crested porcupine or South African porcupine, is a species of Old World porcupine) found in central and southern Africa. These are the largest porcupine species, as well as the largest African rodent.
They avoid dense jungle swampland, and driest of desert, and are not found above 2000m,but short of this they are widespread.
Cape porcupines eat mostly plant material including fruit roots, bulbs and bark. They have a long small intestine and large caecum, employing hindgut fermentation to break down the tough materials in their food, which includes bones and carrion, which they have been known to consume where they encounter it. They are often considered pests by local farmers, because they can feed on crops and damage trees, though in savannahs their debarking of trees may also be helping to prevent the development of denser forested environments.
Within national parks, they are not generally seen often (partly as a result of being nocturnal). I have only seen them once in the Kruger, during a night drive. They are clearly more common than this, we have encountered their quills lying on the ground, all over the place.
Home range varies from around 2/3 -2 square km.
Its first defence is to freeze, but it will charge backwards, if the threat continues. They can live for 10 years in the wild and even up to 20 in captivity.
The crested porcupine, (also called the African crested porcupine) is native to North Africa (though it may be locally extinct in Egypt) and sub-Saharan Africa. It is also found in Italy, where the romans introduced it as an extra food source. While accurate estimates on the population size are not seemingly easy to find, Tuscany has a large enough population for it to be one of the more often sighted species when active (at night). Below, I have embedded some footage of an Italian Porcupine
It rarely climbs trees, but can swim well.
If disturbed, as other porcupine species, it will eventually charge backward. Given quills are not particularly clean, it can cause infection. Quill injuries have killed lions leopards and hyenas, as well as humans.
They are classed as least concern in the wild.
Below is a video of the crested porcupine in their native habitat. The video shows an African leopard trying to take a baby porcupine, however the parents are more than a match on this occasion
The Indian porcupine is a rodent species native to southern Asia and the Middle East. It weighs 11-18kg and is 70-90cm long. It has similar looking quills to the African Porcupine, and has a similar diet.
While its lifespan in the wild is unknown, a captive female lived to 27 years.
It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, and in parts of its range is common enough to be considered a pest.
The long-tailed porcupine is a species of rodent like other porcupines. It is found in Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Usually weighing between 1.7kg and 2.3kg, they can weigh less. They are 28-48cm long, with a tail of around 24cm. They can drop their tail to save themselves from predators, though it will not regrow. They have large paws, and they are good climbers, allowing them to browse at the top of bushes and trees. While they are good seed dispersers, their feeding on trees can kill them. They are also considered nuisance by humans, as they can destroy crops.
They are listed as least concern.
The Malayan porcupine or Himalayan porcupine is a species of rodent. The head and body measurement are around 56-74 cm and the tail is about 6–11 cm. They weigh around 10 kg-18 kg. They normally feed on roots, tubers, bark and fallen fruits. They also eat carrion, insects, and large tropical seeds. They forage at night and rests during the day. It may be found singly or in pairs. It can also swim and gnaw. The sow usually has one, but twins have also been recorded.
They are hunted for meat and traditional medicine, but currently have a conservation status of least concern.
Found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, this species is hunted for food. This appears to be yet to have any impact on the population as a whole, as it is still listed as least concern. This does require the scientific community to keep an eye on it, and make sure that the consumption of this species does not start causing its extinction.
It can weigh up to 30kn and measure up to 1m in length.
The Sunda (or Javan) porcupine is a species of rodent. It is endemic to Indonesia. Due to the popularity of the hunting and consumption of the Sunda porcupine as an aphrodisiac, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Indonesia has listed this species as a protected animal as of June 2018.
As of yet, the IUCN listing stays at least concern.
A short video, little choice, just some facts (sorry about the music)
Thick spined porcupine (borneon Porcupine)
The thick-spined porcupine is a species of rodent It is endemic to the island of Borneo. it is found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from natural forest to agricultural land and from sea
level up to 1200m. Although this porcupine is hunted for food, it is not considered a concern due to its wide distribution and high tolerance for habitat changes.
In 1996, the species was Near Threatened, but by 2008, this had improved to Least Concern.
The Philippine porcupine (also called Palawan porcupine) is a species of rodent endemic to the island of Palawan in the Philippines. It is known locally as durian or landak.
Its population is claimed to be stable, butkilled farmers. Common in some areas, the species is found in primary and secondary forest in the mountains and in the lowlands. This species also lives in caves and under tree buttresses or in rock crevices. It endemic and restricted to the Palawan Faunal Region.
This mammal appears to have no natural enemies. It’s 40–90cm long, with tail 2.5–20cm and weighs 3.8–5.4 kg.It is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN
and the new world porcupines: Family Erethizontidae
The Andean porcupine or Quichua porcupine is a species of rodent. It is found in the Andes of northern Ecuador and Colombia as well as in Panama. This porcupine is little known, but is probably arboreal, nocturnal and solitary like its relatives. The species is thought to be uncommon to rare and the population decreasing. It is threatened by deforestation, habitat fragmentation and agriculture. It is 60-80cm long (including tail), and weighs 2kg when fully grown. The ecology of this species is little known. Its behaviour is likely to resemble that of its close relatives in being nocturnal and arboreal, and feeding on fruit and leaves.
Although it looks different, it has sometimes been described as a subspecies of the bicolored-spined porcupine, however, genetic studies have shown it to be closest to the stump-tailed porcupine . Rothschild’s porcupine of Panama was formerly considered a distinct species, but phylogenetic evidence indicates that both are synonymous.
Its IUCN rating is data deficient, but given the destruction of its forest home, it is unlikely to be doing well. It is rarely seen, making it hard to study.
Bahai hairy porcupine
The Bahia porcupine, is a New World porcupine species endemic to the Atlantic Forest of south-eastern Brazil. Sphiggurus pallidus was formerly considered a separate species but known from two young specimens only, is a synonym of this species.
Its conservation status is least concern.
Bicoloured spiney porcupine
The bicolored-spined porcupine (Coendou bicolor) is a species of nocturnal and arboreal rodent in the family Erethizontidae.
The head and body of Coendou bicolor measure about 543 mm, and another 481 mm is tail. The body is covered with dense spines, pale yellow at the base and black-tipped, and significantly darker on the midback. The bicolored-spined porcupine has a fully prehensile tail that is primarily free of spines.
Its conservation status is least concern
Black dwarf (Koopmans) porcupine
The black dwarf porcupine also called Koopman’s porcupine, is a porcupine species from the New World and is endemic to northern Brazil. It occurs in the Amazon rainforest east of the Madeira River and south of the Amazon River. It inhabits primary forest and possibly second growth. It was described as Coendou koopmani by Charles O. Handley Jr. and Ronald H. Pine in 1992, but was subsequently found to be identical to a species described in 1818. It is nocturnal and herbivorous.
Black tailed hairy porcupine
The black-tailed hairy dwarf porcupine is a porcupine species, found in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.
This species was formerly sometimes assigned to Sphiggurus, a genus no longer recognized since genetic studies showed it to be polyphyletic. Its closest relatives are the frosted hairy dwarf porcupine, the brown hairy dwarf porcupine and the streaked dwarf porcupine.
Brown hairy dwarf porcupine
The brown hairy dwarf porcupine is a species of rodent in the family Erethizontidae. Found in the Andes in Colombia and Venezuela, its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. It is not easy to study as it is only known from a few specimens and wasn’t recorded from 1925 until the 2000s. The porcupine is nocturnal and arboreal, feeding on leaves, shoots, and fruits. Habitat loss severely threatens it and it may even be extinct. Formerly listed as vulnerable, it is now designated data deficient. It is not known from any protected areas or conservation measures.
This species was formerly sometimes assigned to Sphiggurus, a genus no longer recognized since genetic studies showed it to be polyphyletic. Its closest relative is the frosted hairy dwarf porcupine.
Its conservation status is data deficient.
Paraguaian hairy dwarf porcupine – Coendou speratus ,
The Paraguaian hairy dwarf porcupine is a porcupine species from the family Erethizontidae. It is found in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
They have a short tail and grey brown quills and feed on fruits, ant pupae, vegetables and roots.
This species was formerly sometimes assigned to Sphiggurus, a genus no longer recognized since genetic studies showed it to be polyphyletic. The population formerly recognized as the orange-spined hairy dwarf porcupine has been reclassified to this species. Its closest relatives are the bicolored-spined porcupine and the black dwarf porcupine.
Frosted hairy dwarf porcupine
The frosted hairy dwarf porcupine is a porcupine species in the family Erethizontidae from Colombia and northern and eastern Venezuela. It was formerly sometimes assigned to Sphiggurus, a genus no longer recognized since genetic studies showed it to be polyphyletic. The species lives in lowland tropical rainforest and cloud forest at elevations from 50 to 2,600m. Its closest relative is the brown hairy dwarf porcupine.
It is listed as least concern
Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine
The Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine or Mexican tree porcupine is a species of rodent. It is found in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua and Belize. Its closest relatives are the Andean porcupine, and the stump-tailed porcupine.
This porcupine has a pale head and a dark-coloured body. The length of head and body is 32cm-45cm, with a tail ranging from 20-36cm. The maximum weight is about 2.6 kg.
This porcupine is covered with short yellowish spines but these are hard to see, due to the long black hair covering the body. Sometimes the spines on the shoulders and back are visible projecting through the hairs. By contrast, the head is hairless, revealing the yellowish spines. The snout is pink, broad and bulbous, and the eyes are small. The tail is prehensile, spiny and broad at the base, tapering to a point. This porcupine differs from Rothschild’s porcupine in that Rothschild’s is more obviously spiny and lacks the hairy coat.
Living in the trees, it uses its prehensile tail to hold onto branches. It is nocturnal and is usually more active on dark nights. The day is spent in a hollow tree, concealed on a leafy branch, or in highland areas, in a clump of bamboos. As it uses the same hiding place each day, a pile of droppings accumulates which produces a strong odour. The diet consists of buds, young leaves, fruits and seeds. It particularly favours fruiting trees such as Inga, Cecropia, Ficus and Brosimum.
Individuals normally live alone and are silent, but in the breeding season it is more vocal, emitting screams and yowls. The female usually bears a single offspring.
Its conservation status is least concern.
North American Porcupine
The North American porcupine, also known as the Canadian porcupine, is a large quill-covered rodent in the New World porcupine family. It is the second largest rodent in North America after the North American beaver. The porcupine is a caviomorph rodent whose ancestors crossed the Atlantic from Africa to Brazil 30 million years ago, and then migrated to North America during the Great American Interchange when central America became a bridge between the two continents. There are 7 recognized subspecies.
It has 30,000 quills all over its body (these are modified hair. It can raise and lower them as reqiured.
It also has a strong odour, which warns away predators. It is also a good climber. Natural predators of this species include fishers (a cat-sized mustelid), wolverines, coyotes, wolves,[American black bears, and cougars, as well as humans. The only known avian predators of this species are golden eagles and great horned owls. All the quills have barbs on them, which means that even if the porcupine is killed by the predator, they often die afterwards, from infection transmitted from the quills.
They can live for 30 years, but death is usually a result of starvation, predation, falling out of a tree or being run over.
As a species, it is least concern however areas like Mexico have an alarmingly low population.
Roosmalens dwarf porcupine
Found in northern Brazil, it has not been assessed properly, and only a few specimens have been found
It is listed as data deficient
The Rothschild’s Porcupine is a mysterious animal in many ways. An uncommon and nocturnal species, it has barely been studied in the field and its behavior and ecology remain poorly known. Its taxonomic status is also in dispute. Most interestingly for our purposes, the Rothschild’s Porcupine has never been recorded with certainty outside of Panama and so is officially regarded by many sources as a Panamanian endemic. With some luck, these porcupines can be found on nighttime excursions, or even at daytime roosts, at or around all three Canopy Family properties, although they are most often seen near the Canopy Tower.
The Rothschild’s Porcupine is almost entirely covered with black and yellowish-white spines, excepting its underbelly and its bulbous pink nose. Its tail is prehensile, as its lifestyle is mostly arboreal. It is active at night. Its diet includes fruits and leaves, and Canopy Family guides have observed that it is especially fond of Membrillo fruits.
The natural predator most often hunting it, is the Ocelot.
Santa Marta Porcupine
The Santa Marta porcupine is a rodent . It is known from dry forests on the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Serranía del Perijá mountains of northern Colombia, at altitudes below 500 and 1100 m, respectively, and intervening lowlands, and may also be present in nearby parts of Venezuela.
There is some debate as to whether it is a subspecies, or not, we will leave this conversation to finish before deciding.
Spine tailed porcupine
Streaked dwarf porcupine
Stump tailed porcupine
Brazilian or Prehensile tailed porcupine