Highly adaptable, living anywhere vegetation is available.They are more likely to be found in open spaces rather than wooded areas, and they seek out rocky crevices, abandoned burrows and caves for shelter.
Cape porcupines are one of the world’s largest porcupine species. Males and females are similar in size. They are covered with flat, bristly hairs and have quills and spines on the back and flanks. The spines are thicker in diameter and longer in length than the quills. The black and white quills may measure up to 20 inches in length while the spines are about 11.8 inches long. These make them appear twice as large when raised. They can stab an attacker with these quills to defend themselves. On the tail are hollow spines that allow them to make a rattling by shaking them. The quills are modified hairs, and if they fall out, they will quickly grow back.
Extending from the face are long whiskers. The rest of the body is coated with dark fur. Each foot has five toes, each with a claw. Their teeth are continuously growing so they can chew through plant material like bark and tubers.
Cape porcupines are monogamous and live in small family groups, called prickles, that are comprised of an adult pair or an adult pair with offspring. They are nocturnal and spend their days resting in rock crevices, caves, abandoned aardvark burrows, or underground burrows that they dig themselves. A family group often excavates an extensive inter-connected burrow system. They are less active when it is cold and will huddle together for warmth. A prickle may maintain up to six burrows which they move between.
At night, they exit their den and head out in search of food. Despite their protective quills, cape porcupines are shy and cautious when foraging, and while they appear clumsy in their movements, they can run fast enough to outpace a person when disturbed. Cape porcupines usually forage alone and sometimes in small groups.
Porcupines are not easily attacked. When threatened by a predator, the porcupine freezes, and if the attacker continues its pursuit, they lift their quills, rattle their tails, stomp their feet, hiss, and snort. If this fails to ward off the predator, the porcupine will whip around and charge backward or sideways and lodges its sharp quills into the attacker. No porcupine can shoot its quills, but any porcupine can do significant damage by stabbing. Another defensive behavior is to hide in their holes facing in and erect their spines so that they cannot be dislodged.
Porcupines feed on roots, bulbs, and bark. As a result, their habit of fatally ring-barking trees has a significant ecological impact because it helps open up woodland into savanna for other species of wildlife. They will also eat carrion in some instances. In areas deficient in phosphorous, they practice osteophagia or gnawing on bones. Cape porcupines will often accumulate large piles of bones in their dens.
Cape porcupines achieve sexual maturity between nine and sixteen months in females and between eight and eighteen months of for males. Breeding takes place between May and December. Pairs mate for life, and both parents are involved in caring for their offspring, or porcupettes.
Following a successful mating, gestation is about 94 days. The porcupettes are born in a grass-lined chamber that the parents made in their den. The female gives birth to one to four offspring, although over half of litters are single births. After the weaning of their young, female porcupines cannot conceive for another three to five months.
At birth, the average weight of the baby is 11 ounces. The young are born with soft quills are and bristles. These harden as they grow. Their eyes are open, and their teeth are present. At a month of age, the young porcupines will begin to try solid food. Weaning will occur when they are between three and four months of age. They reach their full size by the end of their first year of life.
Young are born relatively well-developed, with their eyes open and teeth present. They have soft quills and spines at birth–most likely to make giving birth a bit easier, but they quickly harden in the air. The young grow rapidly, reaching full size in about a year. The young porcupines remain with their parents in small family groups until they are ready to find mates of their own.
|Did YOU Know?|
|A family of porcupines is called a prickle. A male porcupine is called a boar, a female is a sow, and the young are called porcupettes.|
|Length:||1.5 to 3 feet|
|Average Lifespan:||7.5 years|
|Wild Diet:||Roots, bark, fruit, bulbs, foliage, melons, tubers, rhizomes, cultivated crops, insects, small vertebrates.|
|Predators:||Lions, hyenas, leopards, and birds of prey|
|USFWS Status:||Not Listed|
|CITES Status:||Not Listed|
|Where at the Zoo?||Small Animal Building: Desert Zone|