Our Animals - African Crested Porcupine
Our Animals > African Crested Porcupine
The crested porcupine (Hystrix cristata) is a species of rodent in the Hystricidae family. It is extant in mainland Italy, Sicily, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Hystrix cristata is part of the family Hystricidae. The more common name for this species is the crested porcupine. The crested porcupine has an average head and body length of about 600-900 mm. Almost the entire body is covered with bristles which are either dark brown or black and rather coarse. This mammal is recognizable by the quills that run along the head, nape, and back that can be raised into a crest. Hence the name crested porcupine. There are also some sturdier quills which are about 350 mm in length and run along the sides and back half of the body. These sturdier quills are used, for the most part, for defense and are usually marked with light and dark bands which alternate, these are not firmly attached. This porcupine has a shorter tail which has rattle quills at the end. The rattle quills broaden at the terminal end and the broad portion is hollow with thin walls. When these quills are vibrated they produce a hiss-like rattle.
The front feet of the crested porcupine have four developed and clawed digits with a regressed thumb, the rear feet have five. The paws have naked and padded soles and have a plantigrade gait. The ears are external and both the eyes and ears are very small with long vibrissae on its head. The skull is specific in many ways, first the infraorbital foramen is greatly enlarged so that portions of the masseter extend through it and attach from the frontal side surface of the snout. Second the angular process is inflected on the lower jaw, thirdly the nasal cavity is enlarged. Prominent pockets create enlarged areas of attachment for chewing muscles. Collar bones are very much reduced, and there are one incisor, one premolar and three molars.
Food and digestion
The Crested porcupine is for the most part herbivorous, eating roots, bulbs, crops. But occasionally they do consume insects, small vertebrates and carrion. In order to ingest calcium and sharpen incisors they often gnaw on bones. These animals often travel long distances looking for food. They have high crowned teeth that grind plant cells which are digested in the stomach and the undigested fibers are retained in an enlarged appendix and anterior large intestine where they are broken down by microorganisms.
Most of what is known about reproduction in the crested porcupine comes from individuals in captivity. Usually female crested porcupines have one litter every year. One or two very well developed young are born in a chamber within the burrow that is usually lined with grass, but only after a 66 day gestation period, on average. The young weigh about 1000g at birth, which is about three percent of the mothers weight. They leave the den after one week. At this time the spines begin to harden. Crested porcupines reach adult weight at one to two years and are often sexually mature just before then.
The crested porcupine is a terrestrial mammal; they very seldom climb trees, but can swim. They are nocturnal and monogamous. The crested porcupine takes care of the young for a long time and small family groups consist of the adult pair and young of various ages. In defense, when disturbed they raise and fan their quills to make themselves look bigger. If continually bothered, the crested porcupine will stamp its feet, whir the quills, and charge the disturber back end first trying to stab the enemy with the thicker, shorter quills. These attacks are known to have killed lions, leopards, hyenas, and even humans.
There are eight species in the genus Hystrix, only two of which are found outside of Asia. The crested porcupine is widespread in Africa and Italy. Although it is favored in many parts of its range as food, its conservation status is set at least concern.
The crested porcupine is found in Italy, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. In the Mediterranean it is known from mainland Italy and the island of Sicily, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia; there are also records from Libya, and along the Egyptian coast. It has been recorded from sea level to 2550 m in Moroccan Anti Atlas. It is sometimes asserted that the porcupine was introduced to Italy by the Romans, but fossil and sub fossil remains suggest it was possibly present in Europe in the Upper Pleistocene.