Overview

Distribution

Range Description

This widespread African species occurs from Kenya and southern Uganda in the north, through Tanzania, Rwanda, southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, extreme southwestern Congo, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, and then south throughout the southern African Subregion (although it is absent from much of central Botswana). There is no confirmed evidence that they occur on The island of Zanzibar, Tanzania. It is found from sea level to over 2,000 m asl.
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Geographic Range

Hystrix africaeaustralis is found only in sub-saharan Africa, excluding the coastal desert of the southwest.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

  • Smithers, R. 1983. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria.
  • 1999. "The South African Porcupine Page" (On-line). Accessed November 28, 1999 at http://garnet.fsu.edu/~jbm4162/porc.htm.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

South African porcupines are the largest rodent in their region. Females are, on average, about one kilogram heavier than males and both sexes are larger than half a meter long.

These porcupines are covered with flat, bristly hairs and have quills and spines on the posterior back and flanks. The difference between quills and spines is largely one of length and thickness, with spines up to 50 cm long and quills up to 30 cm long. The white and black crest of spines and quills can be erected at will to make the animal look enormous and threatening. Some spines on the tail are hollow and make a rattling sound when shaken. The very sharp spines and quills come off when touched by a predator or shaken off, but they grow back rapidly. South African porcupines also have very long mobile whiskers.

Range mass: 18 to 30 kg.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 13.175 W.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It is found in most of the types of vegetation encountered in southern Africa. They are generally absent from forest, and are only found here marginally. They have been recorded in the coastal parts of the Namib Desert in Namibia. Day-time shelters may take the form of rock crevices, caves and abandoned Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) burrows or other types of holes in the ground. Holes are often modified to their own requirements, but they also dig their own burrows as they do in East Africa. It is a nocturnal, territorial and mostly solitary forager, although it can occasionally be found foraging in groups of two to three animals. This species is monogamous and live in groups comprising either an adult pair, an adult pair and their offspring from consecutive litters, or an adult male and young of the year (Skinner and Smithers 1990; Skinner and Chimimba 2005). The species has a gestation period of 93 to 94 days, after which one to three young are born. There is a single litter per year.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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South African porcupines are found from sea level to 2000 m above sea level in most areas with vegetation. They prefer rocky hills and outcrops, as they must have shelter during the day. They often take shelter in caves or antbear (Orycteropus afer) holes. They also build dens which can be up to 20m long with a 2m deep living chamber.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World v. III. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Storch, G. 1990. Porcupines. S Parker, ed. Grizimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals v.4. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

South African porcupines are mostly vegetarian, using their strong digging claws to get roots, tubers, and bulbs. They are also fond of fallen fruits and will sometimes gnaw on bark. Their anterior large intestine and enlarged appendix contain microorganisms that break down undigested plant fibers.

They have also been reported to eat carrion in some instances. In areas deficient in phosphorous they practice osteophagia, or gnawing on bones. These porcupines will often accumulate large piles of bones in their dens.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; flowers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Lignivore, Eats sap or other plant foods)

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Porcupine foraging has important impacts on the plant communities in which they live.

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Predation

Hystrix africaeaustralis have interesting defensive behaviors. They have quite acute hearing and will freeze when approached by predators, such as big cats, large predatory birds, or hyaenas. When cornered, these porcupines can be aggressive, running sideways or backwards to embed their sharp quills in an attacker. Contrary to myth, they can not throw their quills, but they may become dislodged when they shake their hollow rattling quills. Another defensive behavior is to hide in their holes facing in and erect their spines so that they can not be dislodged.

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

These porcupines are long-lived for rodents, surviving 12 to 15 years in the wild.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
12 to 15 years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
15 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 23.1 years (captivity) Observations: In the wild, these animals can live up to 15 years (Ronald Nowak 1999). One captive specimen lived for 23.1 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Because of their dangerous anatomy, females initiate copulation by presenting to the males.

Male porcupines reach sexual maturity between eight and eighteen months, while females reach sexual maturity between nine and sixteen months. Gestation lasts for three months.

The young are born in litters of one to four into a grass-lined chamber in the parents' den during the wet months of August to March. The average litter size is 1.5 and the average newborn mass is 311g.

Young porcupines nurse for three to four months, at which point they will weigh four to five kilograms. After the weaning of their young, female porcupines can not conceive for another three to five months.

Breeding interval: Female porcupines usually breed once yearly, although more often is possible.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from May through December.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.

Average number of offspring: 1.5.

Average gestation period: 3 months.

Range weaning age: 3 to 4 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 9 to 16 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 18 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Average birth mass: 351 g.

Average gestation period: 94 days.

Average number of offspring: 2.1.

Young are born relatively well-developed, with their eyes open and teeth present. They have soft quills and spines at birth (most likely to ease the birthing process) but they quickly harden in the air. The young grow rapidly, reaching full size in about a year.

Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World v. III. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Smithers, R. 1983. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria.
  • Storch, G. 1990. Porcupines. S Parker, ed. Grizimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals v.4. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Hystrix africaeaustralis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Grubb, P.

Reviewer/s
Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority) & Cox, N. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, it occurs in a number of protected areas, has a tolerance of a degree of habitat modification, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category. Some limited hunting by humans occurs some parts of the range, but the population overall is stable.

History
  • 2004
    Least Concern
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South African porcupines are not considered threatened currently.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
It is fairly common, although hunting pressure may account for its absence in some areas.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
There are no major threats to this species. Porcupines have benefited from agricultural development and their destructive feeding habitats have led to them being considered as a problem in some farming areas, especially where root crops, potatoes, groundnuts and maize are grown. Porcupines are also notorious for ring-barking trees, which exposes the tree's heartwood and increases susceptibility to fungal infections.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It occurs in many protected areas, most of which are very well managed.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Porcupines eat vegetable crops and are destructive feeders. That is, they dig up and destroy much more food than they eat.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Porcupines are important members of healthy ecosystems.

Positive Impacts: food

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Wikipedia

Cape porcupine

This article is about an African porcupine. For the headland in Canada, see Cape Porcupine, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Cape porcupine or South African porcupine, (Hystrix africaeaustralis), is a species of Old World porcupine native to central and southern Africa.

Description[edit]

Cape porcupines are the largest rodents in southern Africa and also the world's largest porcupines. They are similar in appearance to, and only slightly larger than, their close relatives, the crested porcupines, and can most easily be distinguished from them by the presence of a band of short white spines along the midline of the rump. Cape porcupines measure 63 to 81 centimetres (25 to 32 inches) long from the head to the base of the tail, with the tail adding a further 11–20 centimetres (4.3–7.9 inches).[2] They weigh from 10 to 24 kilograms (22 to 53 pounds), with exceptionally large specimens weighing up to 30 kg (66 lb);[3][4] males and females are not significantly different in size.[2]

They are heavily built animals, with stocky bodies, short limbs, and an inconspicuous tail. The body is covered in long spines up to 5 centimetres (2.0 in) in length, interspersed with thicker, sharply pointed, defence quills up to 3 centimetres (1.2 in) long, and with bristly, blackish or brownish fur. The spines on the tail are hollow, and used to make a rattling sound to scare away predators. An erectile crest of long, bristly hairs runs from the top of the head down to the shoulders. The spines and quills cover the back and flanks of the animal, starting about a third of the way down the body, and continuing onto the tail. The quills have multiple bands of black and white along their length, and grow from regularly spaced grooves along the animal's body; each groove holding five to eight quills. The remainder of the animal, including the undersides, is covered with dark hair.[2]

The eyes and ears are relatively small, and the mobile whiskers are short. The feet have five clawed toes, although the first toes on the forefeet are vestigial. Females have two pairs of teats.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Cape porcupines are found across the whole of southern and central Africa, to southern Kenya, Uganda, and Congo at the northern edge of their range. They inhabit a wide range of habitats, from sea level to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), although they are only marginally present in dense forests and the driest of deserts, and are not found in swampland.[1][5] There are no currently recognised subspecies.

Diet and behaviour[edit]

Cape porcupines eat mostly plant material: fruits, roots, tubers, bulbs, and bark. They have a long small intestine and large caecum, employing hindgut fermentation to break down the tough materials in their food.[6] They have also been reported to gnaw on carrion and bones. They are often considered pests by local farmers, because they can feed on crops and damage trees.[2] However, this de-barking of trees may also play a role in the maintenance of local savannah ecosystems, helping to prevent the development of denser forested environments.[7]

Cape porcupines are nocturnal and monogamous, typically living as mated pairs of adults, caring for any young together. Each pair may inhabit up to six burrows, jointly defending their shared territory,[8] although they typically forage as individuals.[5] Both sexes scent mark their territory, although males do so more frequently, and may play a more active role in its defence.[9] The size of the home range varies depending on the local habitat and availability of food, but can range between at least 67 and 203 hectares (170 and 500 acres).[2]

When attacked, the porcupine freezes. If cornered, it turns vicious and charges to stab its attacker with its quills. Otherwise, the porcupine may retreat into its burrow, exposing only its quills and making it hard to dislodge.

Reproduction[edit]

Cape porcupines mate throughout the year, although births are most common during the rainy season, between August and March. Unless a previous litter is lost, females typically give birth only once each year. Oestrus lasts for an average of nine days, during which a membrane across the vagina opens to allow insemination.[10] After mating, a copulatory plug forms, which is expelled about 48 hours later.[11]

Gestation lasts around 94 days, and results in the birth of a litter of up to three young, although over half of births are of singletons.[10] Newborn young weigh 300 to 440 grams (11 to 16 oz), and initially have soft quills. Although they are born with their incisor teeth fully erupted, the remaining teeth begin to appear at 14 days, with the full set of adult teeth present by 25 months.[12] They are weaned at around 100 days of age,[10] and grow rapidly for the first twenty weeks, reaching the full adult size, and sexual maturity, at the end of their first year.[13]

Relative to most other rodents, Cape porcupines are long-lived, surviving for ten years in the wild, or up to twenty years in captivity.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Grubb, P. (2008). Hystrix africaeaustralis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Barthelmess, E.L. (2006). "Hystrix africaeaustralis". Mammalian Species: Number 788: pp. 1–7. doi:10.1644/788.1. 
  3. ^ Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.), Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult (2005), ISBN 0789477645
  4. ^ Wildcliff Nature Reserve
  5. ^ a b van Aarde, R.J. (1987). "Demography of a Cape porcupine, Hystrix africaeaustralis, population". Journal of Zoology 213 (2): 205–212. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1987.tb03694.x. 
  6. ^ van Jaarsveld, A.S. (1983). "Aspects of the digestion in the Cape porcupine". South African Journal of Animal Science 13 (1): 31–33. 
  7. ^ Yeaton, R.I. (1988). "Porcupines, fires and the dynamics of the tree layer of the Burkea africana savanna". Journal of Ecology 76 (4): 1017–1029. doi:10.2307/2260630. 
  8. ^ Corbet, N.U. & van Aarde, R.J. (1996). "Social organization and space use in the Cape porcupine in a southern African savanna". African Journal of Ecology 34 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2028.1996.tb00589.x. 
  9. ^ de Villiers, M.S., et al. (1994). "Habitat utilization by the Cape porcupine Hystrix africaeaustralis in a savanna ecosystem". Journal of Zoology 232 (3): 539–549. 
  10. ^ a b c van Aarde, R.J. (1985). "Reproduction in captive female Cape porcupines (Hystrix africaeaustralis)". Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 75 (2): 577–582. doi:10.1530/jrf.0.0750577. 
  11. ^ van Aarde, R.J. & Skinner, J.D. (1986). "Reproductive biology of the male Cape porcupine, Hystrix africaeaustralis". Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 76 (2): 545–552. doi:10.1530/jrf.0.0760545. 
  12. ^ van Aarde, R.J. (1985). "Age determination of Cape porcupines, Hystrix africaeaustralis". African Journal of Zoology 20 (4): 232–236. 
  13. ^ van Aarde, R.J. (1987). "Pre- and postnatal growth of the Cape porcupine Hystrix africaeaustralis". Journal of Zoology 211 (1): 25–33. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1987.tb07450.x. 
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