African Crested Porcupines are the largest species of porcupines, coming in at up to 66 pounds! This makes them the third largest rodent in the world, behind the North American Beaver and our friends, Leo and Lulu, the capybaras. They inhabit many countries and are not exclusive to Africa, with the species present all throughout Italy, which is why they are sometimes listed as just Crested Porcupines. It was previously assumed that the Romans had brought over the porcupines from Africa, but the fossil evidence shows that these critters inhabited the land well before Caesar had his reign!
The Crested Porcupines are short stocky animals, with strong, sturdy limbs and a somewhat elongated body. They are covered in completely in quills, with the strongest defense on their back half. The quills are hollow and made from keratin (the same stuff our nails and hair are made from) but vary in terms of length and thickness. The longest quills reach up to 14 inches and are rather thin, but there are shorter, thicker quills towards the lower back that can do some serious damage. These porcupines are also equipped with special rattle quills that are open ended and lie at the very end of the tail. When the porcupine feels threatened, they will raise up all the quills on their body, stamp their feet, chatter their teeth and shake their tails producing a rattle sound as the hollow quills bounce off of one another. This display is usually enough to ward off a potential predator, but in cases where it’s not, our spiky friends here have an extra technique that’s sure to get the job done. By positioning its back to the threat, the porcupine is able to charge backwards almost as fast as it can run forwards, with the intent to spear its foe with their sharp quills. Once these quills find their mark they are NO JOKE to get back out. While somewhat loosely attached to the porcupine, the quills are equipped with barbs, think tiny little fish hooks, that will lodge into the skin of the predator and take around 10 pounds of pressure to remove. YIKES! Due to the sheer number of quills and their intense case of stuckinyourskinitus these Crested Porcupines have been known to actually kill their predators (yes, including people)!
A couple myths to debunk
1. No porcupine can shoot their quills – they have to make direct physical contact to stick into something else and pull out of the porcupine’s skin. The reason this myth started is because when they get up or get agitated they’ll shake their bodies and any dead or dying quills fall out, just like our dead or dying hair.
2. No porcupines have venom or toxin in their quills – the reason why their quills end up killing other animals is because they get lodged in their skin with little chance of removal. Being a tough to clean, open wound combines for high chances of infection that can overcome any animal.
The African Crested Porcupine is terrestrial, unable to make use of the trees like their other relatives because of the additional weight in their bodies :(. So they stick to the ground and go after mainly underground portions of plants, so roots and tubers. However, these porcupines aren’t dummies, and when people started planting crops they discovered that potatoes and carrots are MIGHTY tasty and are now gaining the reputation of agricultural pests. It doesn’t help that they will travel up to 9 miles in a night in search of their food, so they are determined! They also occasionally will eat carrion (dead meat), making this species mainly herbivorous, but also technically an omnivore.
When the day comes around they will retreat to their burrows or dens, whether they have dug them themselves or they stole it from an aardvark. These burrows are extensive, with multiple chambers and dedicated rooms. One of these chambers occasionally contains a collection of bones! Trophies from their nightly hunt, proudly shone off on their porcupine mantle right above the fireplace! No, not actually, we just learned they are herbivores, so why do they have so many bones in their burrows? The African Crested Porcupines chew on the bones as a way to wear their constantly growing teeth down in addition to being an excellent source of calcium. That’s what we call in the business a twofer! And who inhabits this burrow? Crested Porcupines are monogamous – they mate with one partner for life! So these porcupines are in it for the long haul and after they are done foraging they go back to their burrow to meet their spouse and porcupettes (baby porcupines) of various ages. This species usually has one litter a year ranging from one to four babies with two being the most common. There is a grass lined chamber in the burrow where mom will give birth and we know what you’re thinking – Porcupines are not born with quills – OBVIOUSLY you don’t want to give birth to anything with quills on it! Instead they are covered in stiff hairs that will harden into their quills within 1-2 weeks, which matches up perfectly with when they leave the burrow for the first time! The porcupettes are playful, romping around just outside the burrow so mom can call them in for dinner time. Co-parenting, which is rare to see in any animal, makes it so mom and dad both take part in the raising of their little ones until they are ready to move out and find their own soulmate <3.
Our African Crested Porcupines, Herbert and Stella, were acquired from the Broadway Zoological Park in North Carolina in early 2023. They were lucky enough to have had 3 breeding pairs, but with 2 litters a year coming out of each, they decided to ship off our lovely couple to an early Florida retirement! Everyone’s dream come true!
Pictured Above: Stella (female), Herbie (male)