The African Porcupine, North African Crested Porcupine

African porcupine, North African crested porcupine
(Hystrix cristata)

A large, ground-living nocturnal rodent covered in long spines or quills and living in family groups in complex burrow systems.

Life span
Up to 21 years in captivity.

Statistics
60-83cm long, with a tail 8-17cm long and weighing 13-27kg.

Physical Description
The African porcupine is one of 5 species of crested porcupine. It is a large rodent walking African porcupine, North African Crested Porcupineflat-footed on all fours and with a very short tail. Its eyes and ears are very small. Its most distinctive feature, however, is its spines. It is covered in black bristly fur, but running down the top of its head and neck is a crest of white bristly hairs which give way to an array of black and white spines that cover the animal’s back and sides, and down its short tail. The spines on the tail are short and stout, and are also hollow, which makes them rattle when shaken. When threatened, the animal can raise its spines, rattle its tail and stamp its hind feet. The porcupine can run backwards into attackers, and the spines are often left embedded in the predator’s flesh. They cannot throw their quills like spears as folklore suggests.

Distribution
Italy, Sicily and along the Northern coast of Africa as far south as Tanzania and northern Congo.

Habitat
African porcupines are highly adaptable, found in forests, rocky areas, mountains, and deserts.

Diet
Mostly bark, roots, tubers and fruit, but occasionally carrion and small animals. They commonly gnaw on bones, and many hominid fossil bones show the marks of porcupine teeth.

Behaviour
African porcupines live in monogamous pairs and form family groups sharing a complex burrow system. They forage at night, following usual tracks. They huddle together for warmth at night and during the winter, when they may be confined to their burrows.

Reproduction
There appears to be no strict breeding season, but females bear only one litter per year. The female initiates courtship at night, and raises her tail, flattening her spines to allow the male to mate. After a gestation of 112 days, 1 or 2 young are born in a grass-lined nest chamber. When born, the young have no spines but are covered in sensitive bristles and have 5 white stripes on their sides. Their eyes open very soon after birth. Although small, they leave the nest after only a week, at which point their spines begin to harden. They begin eating solid food at 2-3 weeks and they lose the white side stripes at 4 weeks. They reach adult weight and sexual maturity at 1-2 years old.

Conservation status
The African porcupine is not threatened.

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