Porcupine Sighting

The other night on my way home, the cutest porcupine ran scuttled across the road in front of me on Boyes Drive.  The sweet little thing had a few quills standing on end but he was not in distress and going about his business of finding shelter or food.  This porcupine looked a bit like a moving bush and I don’t think most people believed me that porcupines live right on our doorstep as they are not often seen!

I realised I didn’t know very much about Porcupines, only that they are the prickliest of all rodents (yes they are rodents!), that they are nocturnal, they make a funny snuffling noise and they have quills which they use as a form of protection and defence when threatened.  And that’s where my knowledge ground to a halt….

So off I went to Google “Cape Porcupines” and was amazed how little information is available on Porcupines, compared to other creatures.  Here is my summary from a couple of websites that concurred on the details. We would be very happy to hear from anyone with more in depth knowledge on the Cape Porcupine.

Cape Porcupine (sometimes called the South African Porcupine)

Latin Name: Hystrix africaeaustralis

It is the largest rodent in Southern Africa

Habitat: most of Sub-saharan Africa, excluding the southwestern deserts of the continent. They inhabit rocky outcrops and hills and mostly shelters in caves or rock crevices or dens they have dug themselves. If they can’t find any rock shelters they will settle for any hole in the ground!

Behaviour: They are nocturnal creatures, but are occasionally seen sunning themselves outside their shelters in the day. Porcupines are shy and will disappear quickly if disturbed. They tend to use existing tracks to travel along and are very noisy animals – lots of snuffling and grunting in addition to the noise of their quills scraping along obstacles and noisy chewing!

Diet: The cape porcupine is mosthly vegetarian feeding on plant material such as fruits, roots, tubers, bulbs, and bark. They also apparently gnaw on bones in order to provide them with phosphorous and calcium.

Family: Porcupines are monogamous! (I was curious about the mating procedure and apparently it is a very careful exercise! The female backs up to the male with her spiny tail raised vertically.) They live in extended family groups, consisting of a male, female, and numerous offspring from consecutive litters. The average litter size is  3- 4. Litters are nursed for four months and grow pretty fast – reaching adult size in only a year. Babies have soft quills at birth, which harden within a few days.

Longevity and Size: Unlike most rodents, the cape porcupine is lives for a long time and the oldest porcupines can be 15 to 20 years old.  Female cape porcupines are the biggest rodents in southern Africa, weighing up to 30 kilograms (average is about 23kgs – which is more than the average suitcase allowance on an aeroplane!) and growing more than two feet long!

The interesting bit is the Quills!

Each Cape Porcupine is covered in bristly quills which vary in thickness. The Quills can be as long as 30 cm’s! On its tail, the spines are hollow to make a rattling sound. When alarmed the porcupine erects it’s quills and shakes it’s tail to scare away predators with the loud noise produced by the butt wiggle!

Contrary to popular belief the porcupine does not “shoot” it’s quills at its attacker. When attacked, the porcupine freezes, but if it is cornered, it turns vicious and charges to stab its attacker with its quills by moving BACKWARDS at speed to embed the quills in the soft part of the enemy’s anatomy, which needless to say causes painful wounds! Alternatively the porcupine will stop suddenly so the enemy will be impaled on the quills!

Cute Facts:

  • I also love that Baby porcupines are called porcupettes!
  • My favourite part is the collective noun for a Cape Porcupine Group! Does anyone know it? I will share the details on facebook!
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