Sphiggurus mexicanus is a Mesoamerican endemic, found from central Mexico (Oaxaca and Yucatan) south to the Isthmus of Panama. Related species are found in South America (S. insidious, S. spinosus, S. villosus). Sphiggurus laenatus, formerly considered a subspecies of S. mexicanus, is sympatric in Panama. Due to taxonomic uncertainties, some studies have listed S. mexicanus or a synonym (Coendou mexicanus) as far south as Brazil and Ecuador.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Sphiggurus mexicanus is morphologically similar to all other species in the genus Sphiggurus. These are small to medium-sized arboreal porcupines, with movements generally slower than other rodents of similar size. The tail is prehensile and naked distally as an adaptation for better mobility in trees. The dorsal and lateral regions of the body are covered by long brown hair and yellowish hardened quills which are used for defense against predation. Electron microscopy has found that these are actually a unique modification of the cuticle, seen only in New World porcupines (Erethizontidae), Old World porcupines (Hystricidae), and tenrecs (Tenrecidae). These quills develop differently from quills seen in other spiny mammals such as hedgehogs (Erinaceidae) and echidnas (Tachyglossidae). Little sexual dimorphism is seen in this species and young are similar to adults. Body length is between 55 to 80 cm and mass between 1.5 and 2.5 kg.
Range mass: 1.5 to 2.5 kg.
Range length: 55 to 80 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Sphiggurus mexicanus has traditionally been considered an exclusively arboreal species, relying on forest habitat for all aspects of its life cycle. There have been rare reports of these porcupines actively foraging far from trees. The IUCN suggests that Sphiggurus mexicanus has a broad elevational and geographical range. Habitat is listed as mixed-mountain forest and coniferous forest up to 3,200 m in elevation. This species is also seen at low elevations when sufficient forest habitat is available, and seems to favor dry lowland habitats on a seasonal basis. It is uncommon to rare in wet evergreen forests, but is locally common in most other forest habitats.
Range elevation: 0 to 3200 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
This species is nocturnal in habit; it seems to be most active on dark nights. It is mainly arboreal, but descends to the ground to cross roads ands clearings; its prehensile tail is usually coiled around a large branch. It is usually solitary and silent, but during the breeding season it calls with loud yowls and screams. During the day it sleeps in hollow trees or on leafy branches. It feeds on seeds, fruit, buds, and young leaves, particularly those of Inga, Cecropia, Ficus, and Brosimum trees. Females usually have one young (Coates-Estrada and Estrada 1986; Reid 1997).
Sphiggurus mexicanus is frugivorous and folivorous. Individuals feed on leaves of trees, particularly those of the genera Inga, Cecropia, Ficus, and Brosimum. However, much about the diet is unknown.
Plant Foods: leaves; fruit
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore )
Sphiggurus mexicanus is a common prey item for a wide variety of Mesoamerican predators. It likely causes plants to produce plant secondary metabolites (PSMs), as does Erethizon dorsatum (North American porcupines). Little is known about parasitology and immunology in this species, nor is much known about competitive pressures. While it is likely that it competes with other generalist canopy herbivores such as spider (Atelidae) and howler monkeys (Alouatta), until more is known about its diet, this remains speculative.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Sphiggurus mexicanus is well-defended from predation, having quills and being primarily nocturnal. However, it has been recorded as a prey item of ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) and has been observed being preyed on by birds when exposed. Boa constrictors (Boa constrictor) feed on Sphiggurus species, though snakes have died from having apparent S. mexicanus quills lodged in or puncturing the lining of the gut, eventually causing starvation. Similar species (Coendou and Sphiggurus) have been recorded in the diet of many tropical forest felids and canids.
Sphiffurus mexicanus is also hunted extensively by humans in some parts of its range as a source of food and for medicinal purposes. Many animals are killed by traffic.
- boa constrictors (Boa constrictor)
- ocelots (Leopardus pardalis)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Mexican hairy dwarf porcupines are relatively silent, only vocalizing during mating periods. Screams, grunts, squeals, and moans have been reported during breeding. It is likely that scent plays a role in communication, though no research supports or refutes this. Coendou males have been recorded performing a behavior known as anal dragging, rubbing their posterior along the ground, likely to mark territories with scent, though no observations have been noted for this behavior in Sphiggurus.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Females remain reproductively active for 11 to 12 years and animals have been recorded in captivity surviving for over 15 years. However, little is known about the lifespan of wild individuals.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Little is known about the mating systems of Sphiggurus mexicanus. In other porcupines, females control mating by voluntary movement of posterior quills to permit copulation. Available research on S. mexicanus hints that this species is similar in reproductive behavior to Coendou species. Both sexes use a combination of screams, grunts, squeals, and moans to find mates, but are otherwise silent. Coendou females generally mate immediately post-partum. In Sphiggurus mexicanus, however, it is uncertain how mate selection occurs, though polygynandry is likely. Females likely breed regularly for the duration of their reproductive period.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Little is known about the reproductive behavior of Sphiggurus mexicanus. In Coendou species, females reach sexual maturity at approximately 19 months. Gestation is approximately 203 days, with litter sizes of generally a single offspring, and sometimes twins, indicating a high parental investment. Young weigh just 400 g at birth, are precocial, and are capable of climbing immediately. Quills are soft and pliable during birth but harden within 2 to 3 days after birth. Females remain reproductively active for 11 to 12 years. Similarly, Bahia hairy dwarf porcupines (Sphiggurus insidiosus) have 1 precocial young after a gestation period of about 200 days and the young become independent at 8 to 12 weeks after birth. Possible seasonal atrophy of organs has been hypothesized. One study examined the morphology of reproductive organs in road-killed females, finding evidence for atrophy of vaginal and ovarian blood supply in non-breeding females.
Breeding interval: Mexican hairy dwarf porcupines breed regularly throughout the year, following post-partum estrous.
Breeding season: Mexican hairy dwarf porcupines breed year round.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous ; post-partum estrous
Little is known about parental investment in Sphiggurus mexicanus. Young are precocial at birth, with high pre-birth maternal resource investment per young. Young are generally between 16 and 60% of maternal body weight. Mexican hairy dwarf porcupines are solitary and males do not help care for their young. In the related species, S. insidiosus, young can walk and climb shortly after birth and are independent at 8 to 12 weeks after birth.
Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sphiggurus mexicanus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Sphiggurus mexicanus is common throughout its range and is considered a species of least concern by CITES (Appendix III) and the IUCN Red List (2008). This is likely due to a broad habitat requirements and protection of vast amounts of habitat within its range. This species was first listed in the IUCN Red List in 1996, and updated in 2008. The IUCN and other organizations show the population declining, though not severely enough for listing as a threatened or endangered species. However, due to a dearth of research focusing on this species, its status is in need of assessment. Some organizations, including the Los Tuxtlas Biological Reserve in Veracruz, Mexico, consider the species to be in decline and that more research is needed to assess its abundance. It is listed as one of 31 Mesoamerican endemic mammal species in the reserve, but is one of the most poorly studied.
The single largest threat to this species is habitat loss, though these animals do show some environmental plasticity and can adapt to minor habitat changes. One study found that 59% of mammal species in Mesoamerica (including S. mexicanus) respond negatively to habitat loss and manipulation for forestry practices.
The conservation status of this species is also dependent upon the taxonomic uncertainties described below (Other Comments). As the taxonomic relationships of the subspecies and regional populations of this species are better understood, it is likely that the conservation status of certain populations will change.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix iii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Farmers and foresters report observing Sphiggurus mexicanus eating crop plants and the leaves and fruits of commercially managed trees. Coffee plantations have reported these porcupines eating coffee beans and they are widely managed as a pest under these conditions. However, the negative commercial effects of this species are significantly less than those of weather and other environmental effects.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Sphiggurus mexicanus is commonly hunted by humans. Its meat is used for food, and its fat and skin are said to have medicinal value among indigenous peoples. The skin has cultural significance in traditional garb as well and is used in clothing and headdresses.
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug
Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine
The Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine or Mexican tree porcupine (Sphiggurus mexicanus) is a species of rodent in the family Erethizontidae. It is found in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua and Belize.
- Pino, J., Vázquez, E., Reid, F. & Cuarón, A. D. (2008). Sphiggurus mexicanus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
- Woods, C. A.; Kilpatrick, C. W. (2005). "Infraorder Hystricognathi". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 1538–1600. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Biodiversity and Environmental Resource Data System of Belize "Sphiggurus mexicanus specimen records". Accessed on 5 March 2014.
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