Saturday, April 28, 2007
The African porcupine
By: HYSTRIX CRISTATA
THE porcupine deserves respect; because getting too close can be one painful experience. Armed with 30,000 sharp, slightly barbed quills, the porcupine’s defense system is almost invulnerable.
The porcupine is a rodent. It has black to brownish-yellow fur and strong, short legs. It has hairless soles on its feet that help it climb tress. It has a round body, small ears and a small head.
The most recognizable feature of the porcupine is its quills. A porcupine may have as many as 30,000 quills. The quills are hairs with barbed tips on the ends.
Quills are solid at the tip and base and hollow for most of the shaft. The porcupine has quills on all parts of its body, expect for its stomach. The longest quills are on its cheeks.
Porcupines do not go in search of a victim to injure. They attack only out of self preservation.
Life span, up to 21 years in captivity.
60 – 83cm long, with a tail 8 – 7 cm long and weighing 13 – 27 kg.
African Porcupine is one of five species of crested porcupine. It is a large rodent walking flat-footed on all fours and with a very short tail. Its eyes and ears are very small. Its most distinctive feature however, it 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 sown its short tail. The spines on the tail are short and stout, and are also hollow, which makes them rattle when shaken.
When a predator approaches, the porcupine will turn its back, raise the quills and lash out at the threat with its tail. If the porcupine hits an animal with its quills, the quills become embedded in the animal.
Body heat makes the barbs expand and they become even more deeply embedded in the animal’s skin. If an animal is hit in a vital place it may die. The porcupine is not an aggressive animal. It will only attack if it is threatened. Some animals, like the fisher, are experts at attacking porcupines.
African porcupines are highly adaptable, found in forests, rocky areas, mountains, and deserts.
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.
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.
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, one or two young are born, the young have no spines but are covered in sensitive bristles and have five 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 four weeks. They reach adult weight and sexual maturity at one-two years old.
The African porcupine is not threatened.
Fisher are woodland animals, and among the most effective predators on land. They are also known in some areas as fisher cat, black cat, tree fox or pecans, Fisher are skilled at killing porcupines. Attacks are to the face of the porcupine as the fisher circles and circles the porcupine who attempts to keep it’s back toward the fisher.
After repeated attacks to the quill free facial area, the porcupine becomes vulnerable to a throat attack. Porcupines are not safe when climbing trees, as fishers simply attack them from top side.
Porcupines may be safe from fisher attacks when they are on branches and facing away from the fisher, or when they are in a position to hide their faces in a crevice or hole.
Fisher often cleans these skins as clean as if they had been skinned by a man. Fisher droppings often include quills, which seem to pass through the digestive system without ill effects.
THE MIRROR - Saturday, April 28, 2007. Page: 29