African Crested Porcupines
Companions to the warthogs in their Zoo exhibit, the African crested
porcupines provide another example of how animals have adapted some pretty
efficient defenses. The largest and heaviest of the African rodents,
this creature has a domed, round head, a short nose and small eyes and ears.
Its legs are short and sturdy, and each foot has five toes, all equipped
with powerful claws - the better to get at the food and you!
The porcupine is, of course, easily recognized by its most notable
feature—its quills. Quill length on different parts of the body varies from
1 inch up to 12 inches on the back. Usually the quills lie flat against the
body, but if danger threatens, the porcupine raises and spreads them.
Although porcupines can't actually "throw" their quills, they can embed
them into an animal that gets too close for comfort. The scales on the
tips of the quills act like fishhooks, and once embedded, they are difficult
to pull out. From the porcupine’s point of view, the loss of a few
quills is money well spent; new quills grow in to replace lost ones. Most
creatures that have had a run-in with a porcupine learn their lesson and
maintain a safe distance in future encounters.
They Climb Trees!
These porcupines can range up to almost three feet long and weigh from 40 to
60 pounds, with the females coming in slightly heavier than the males.
Even among animals known for their sharp senses of smell and hearing, this
species has exceptionally keen senses. Amazingly enough, they can swim and
climb trees well.
Found in Africa south of the Sahara, they prefer to live on rocky hillsides,
but can do well in elevations up to 11,000 feet if the grazing is abundant.
It uses its powerful claws to dig up tubers, roots, and a variety of bulbs.
They especially like such cultivated crops as sugar cane, pineapples,
bamboo, melons, cocoa and oil palms, and corn, but also occasionally eat
carrion and gnaw on bark and bones.
These animals dig out cavernous dens that can reach up to 65 deep with a six
foot plus deep central living chamber. As many as six family members may
live together in the den, and they sometimes use it for defensive purposes
by running into an entrance and erecting its spines to make it difficult (if
not impossible) for predators to pull them out.
Reaching sexual maturity at between eight and eighteen months, the African
porcupine is a devoted parent that cares for its young over the long term.
This species usually has two litters a year, during the wettest months
between March and April. Females gestate for 93 to 105 days, then give birth
to one to four pups in the family's grass-lined nesting chamber. Although
they can eat solid food from birth, the pups nurse for about 100 days.
The porcupine is not threatened in its range, but it does have enemies.
If a predator approaches, the porcupine will stamp its feet, click its teeth
and growl or hiss while vibrating specialized quills that produce a
characteristic rattle as a warning. If an enemy persists, it runs backward
until it rams its attacker. The reverse charge is most effective because the
hindquarters are the most heavily armed and the quills are directed to the
In some parts of Africa, this species is hunted for its meat, which is
considered a delicacy. In addition, the porcupine's destructive
and voracious feeding habits make them the enemy of many farmers, gardeners,
● The quills on the
tips of their tails are hollow at the ends, which cause them to make a
startling whizzing sound when shaken. Porcupine quills have long been a
favorite ornament and good-luck charm in Africa. The hollow rattle quills
serve as musical instruments and were once used as containers for gold dust.
● The creatures walk
with an alternating gait, as a dog or cat would.
Click here to find out the differences between a North
American and an African porcupine.
Photo close up by Gabi Moore; second photo by Jackie Curts