Coendou prehensilis - Brazilian Porcupine
The Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis) is an arboreal herbivore with a diet mainly comprised of bark, buds, fruits, and seeds. The dental formula I 1/1, C 0/0, P 1/1, M 3/3 is indicative of a herbivore/foliovore. It can reach an approximate length of 1,050 mm and weigh up to 5kg. The tail accounts for almost half of the body length, and it is fully prehensile. The quills are conspicuous, ranging in length depending on location of the body, and are not covered by dorsal hairs. Their hind feet have a wide movable pad on the soul to improve climbing ability.
The Brazilian porcupine has a broad distribution. It mostly occurs in moist, montane, and disturbed forest and in coastal and Amazonian areas. The range includes Venezuela south to northern Argentina and has been collected in Uruguay, eastern Paraguay, and Peru.
There seems to be no seasonality to the reproduction efforts of the Brazilian porcupine. However, in selected areas rainfall has been known to cause birth peaks. Birth occurs between 195 and 210 days after copulation. The litter consists of one precocial offspring weighing about 415 grams and a length of approximately 500 mm. There are three phases of infant development apparent: a period of total nutritional dependence on the mother (birth to 4 weeks); a period of mixed nutrition, where the infant suckles and takes some solids (4 - 15 weeks); and a period of nutritional independence (15 weeks plus) (Roberts et al. 1985). During the first phase there is an approximate mean weight gain of 12 grams daily. The second phase is about 10 grams daily, and the third phase is about 12 grams daily which slows as the porcupine reaches maturity.
At birth their eyes are open, claws are well developed for climbing, and they have a strong prehensile tail. When disturbed, the young will climb readily. Their coat consists of natal quills and dense reddish brown guard hairs over most of their body. The quills start at a length of 15 mm long and grow at a rate of 5 mm per week. By approximately the 10th week, the quills should have reached adult length. At 16 months, the porcupine will have reached about 4 kg, which is the lower weight limit for adults. Females can reach sexual maturity at an age of 19 months. There is very little direct contact between mother and young outside of suckling bouts (Roberts et al. 1985). Nursing occurs every 4 to 6 hour and lasts from 1 to 3 minutes. The young porcupine typically remains in one spot for the first 2 to 3 weeks after birth. Juveniles often play alone for long periods of time and occasionally with parents, particularly with the father.
Ecology and Behavior:
The Brazilian porcupine is predominantly nocturnal and spends most of its time in trees. They prefer to sleep in tangled vegetation among the treetops but also shelter in hollow limbs, tree trunks, and shallow burrows (Nowak 1999). These areas are usually shaded from direct sunlight and located in larger trees anywhere from 6 to 30 meter above ground. When active during the night they can travel long distances in search of food and new resting areas. They change locations each night, moving up to as much as 700 meters between consecutive daily rests sites (Montgomery and Yael 1978). There is considerable day-to-day variation in distances that an animal moves, but each is generally 200 to 400 meters from where it spent the previous day (Montgomery and Yael 1978). The average home range of the porcupine is roughly 15 to 20 ha which can extend up to 30 ha.
Porcupines communicate via body posture, scent marking, sounds, and vocalizations. Quills of a completely relaxed animal lay flat against the body while those of a highly aroused animal are erected virtually perpendicular to the skin surface (Roberts et al. 1985). If extremely aggravated, they will lower their head in the direction of the threat and lunge forward presenting the long quills of the head and neck. Both sexes use extensive urine marking and anal rub sites. These sites mark home ranges and feeding territories. Males will mark females and infants by spraying them with urine. Scent marking can turn the base of the quills on the lower back and flanks an orange/yellow color. This area also has a pungent odor, signifying the porcupine’s presence. Porcupines use tooth chattering as a warning to low level threats. Quill rattling occurs when the porcupine shakes its body and its semi-hollow quills strike against one another. This function may be used to realign quills or used when a startled porcupine is touched or sniffed by another animal. Nine vocalization types are produced, including a long moaning employed as a contact call between isolated individuals (Eisenberg and Redford 1999). Those calls with low or descending frequency are used when threatened and calls with higher frequency are used for contact.
Candela, A. M. 2002. Lower deciduous tooth homologies in Erethizontidae (Rodentia, Hystricognathi): Evolutionary significance. Acta Paleontologica Polonica 47:717-723.
Eisenberg J. F. and Redford H. K. 1999. Mammals of the Neotropics: The Central Region. Volume Three. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Montgomery, G.G. and Y.D. Lubin. 1978. Movements of Coendou prehensilis in the Venezuelan llanos. Journal of Mammalogy 59:887-888.
Nowak, N. M., 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Roberts, M., Brand, S. and E. Maliniak. 1985. The biology of captive prehensile-tailed porcupines, Coedou prehensilis. Journal of Mammalogy 66:476-482.
Reference written by Nigel Seidel, Biol 378 (Mammalogy), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point: Edited by Kim Moore. Page last updated 12-17-04.