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African Crested Porcupine

Hystrix cristata

About the African Crested Porcupine

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Geographic Range:

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Class: Mammalia  
Order: Rodentia
Family: Hystricidae  
Genus: Hystrix  
Species: cristata

The African crested porcupine is named for the crest of white-tipped bristles around its neck. It has long hair and black-and-white quills that can grow to a foot in length. The porcupine does not shoot its quills at predators; rather, it sheds them on impact so that they become imbedded in an attacker.

African Crested Porcupine Facts

Appearance:
African crested porcupines have a crest of white-tipped bristles around the neck. They have long hair and black and white quills that range from a couple of inches to a foot in length. Females may be larger than males, but otherwise, the sexes are alike in appearance and are difficult to distinguish. Their short rump spines and the underside of their tails are white.

Size:
Length: Up to 39 inches; tail 4 to 6.5 inches
Weight: 30 to 65 pounds

Reproduction:
One to four offspring are born after a gestation of 93 to 100 days.  Reproduction may occur at any time of year.  Offspring are born with eyes open and incisors that have already broken through the gums. Young nurse for three to four months and reach full size by 1 year of age.  Females reach maturity by 16 months; males by 18 months.

Median Life Expectancy:
Up to 15 years

Habitat/Range:
They inhabit all habitats from sea level to 6,500 feet south of the equator in Africa.

Diet:
Primarily herbivores, they feed on roots, bulbs, tuber and bark. Occasionally, they will gnaw on old carcasses and bones to get calcium and to wear down teeth.

Behavior:
African crested porcupines are nocturnal, and, unlike new world porcupines, they are exclusively terrestrial. They may be found in small family groups, but they tend to forage alone and to follow the same paths searching for food. They will modify natural shelters, such as caves, crevices or burrows created by other animals.  If no suitable shelter is available, they will dig their own burrow.

When alarmed, the quills are erected and the porcupine puts its back toward the threat for maximum protection. Porcupines shake their specially-modified, hollow quills, known as “rattle quills.”  Porcupines do not "shoot" their quills, but shed them upon impact, so that they become imbedded in an attacker. These porcupines may freeze if they hear a large predator. They also make grunting noises.

Adaptations:
Acute hearing allows porcupines to respond quickly to threats. Their ability to rattle them ward off predators. Foul- smelling urine marks their territories. Often, these porcupines will wedge themselves into a burrow with their quills facing out, thus making it difficult for a larger predator to dislodge them. Broad feet with sharp claws enable them to dig for roots and for shelter.

Role in Habitat:
Hyenas, leopards, raptors and pythons will eat porcupines on occasion. Gnawing on trees starts cavities, creating hiding and nesting spaces for smaller animals. 

Conservation:
Common. However, because porcupines will damage crops, they have been exterminated in parts of their range. Also, despite the fact that quills are shed, these animals are hunted for quill ornaments and/or charms.

Fun Facts:

  • There are several species of Old World crested porcupine, but they are not related to the porcupines in the Americas.
  • Quills have been used for ornamentation and for arrow tips.