North African crested porcupine
The world's largest porcupine, this rodent exhibits black and white quills along its head. The Crested porcupine is so called due to its back, which can raise, becoming a crest on occasion. The solid and sharp quills, covering the body of this animal, serve as a mean of self-defense against predators and are 35 cm (14 in) in length, displaying alternating light and dark stripes. These prickles are wide, thin walled and hollow-tipped. When the Crested porcupine is threatened, these quills vibrate, producing a hiss-like sound. The quills of this rodent are so sharp, that the animal can injure lions, leopards, hyenas and humans.
These rodents inhabit forests, rocky and mountainous areas, croplands and sandhill deserts of Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean coast of Africa up to northern Zaire and Tanzania.
Habits and lifestyle
As nocturnal animals, the Crested porcupines spend their daytime hours in dens, coming out to forage by night. They are solitary foragers, taking long trips of up to 15 km each night. Meanwhile, these rodents are social animals, forming small family units of an adult pair and their offspring. These families live in complex burrow systems, where they spend their winter months without hibernating. Their quills are the primary mean of self-defense: when the animal is disturbed or threatened, the quills raise and vibrate, making the porcupine look larger than it is. If this action doesn't work, it will stamp its feet, vibrate its quills, attacking the opponent back first in order to stab the rival with thicker and shorter quills on its back end.
Diet and nutrition
These herbivorous (lignivorous) rodents mainly consume bark, roots, tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, fallen fruits and cultivated crops, complementing their diet with insects and small vertebrates. Cape porcupines are also known to gnaw on bones for calcium as well as in order to sharpen their incisors. In addition, they can use carrion on occasion.
The Crested porcupines are monogamous animals, forming long-lasting pairs. They mate in November-December. Gestation period lasts for 112 days, yielding 1 - 2 well-developed babies. The young are born in a special chamber, located in their burrow system and lined with grass. Within the first week of their lives, young porcupines begin to venture from the den, by which time their spines start hardening. During the first 2 - 3 weeks, they feed upon maternal milk, until they include solid food in their diet. Sexual maturity is reached before getting the adult weight, within 1 - 2 years old.
Due to consuming cultivated crops and gnawing on plantation trees, these rodents are persecuted and poisoned with bait by farmers as a pest species. Populations in both Europe and Africa attract hunters for their meat, which is a delicacy in some countries of North and West Africa. They are also hunted for their quills, used as ornaments and talismans. In Morocco, these animals are believed to have a pharmaceutical value, being killed and sold in large numbers to be used in traditional ‘medicines’ and witchcraft.
According to IUCN, The Crested porcupine is generally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Fun facts for kids
- Despite a mistaken belief that porcupines shoot their quills, these animals, in fact, spread their quills, backing into the opponent and opening them upon contact. Their quills have bacteria, which is extremely dangerous for other animals, and can be fatal once getting into their blood.
- Quills of newborn porcupines are soft, starting to harden just a few hours after birth.
- As opposed North American porcupines, quills of these animals aren't barbed.
- In order to wear down their teeth, these rodents chew hard objects such as bones, collecting them in their burrows. They can gather thousands of bones in a single burrow.
- Although clumsy on land, they are agile in water, being exceptionally good swimmers.
- Due to the well-developed sense of hearing, these animals are able to hear fruit drop from a tree up to several yards away.