Porcupine or Cape Porcupine [Hystrix africaeaustralis]


What is a Porcupine?
The African Porcupine is a type of Rodent that has long sharp spines, up to 50cm long, which cover its whole back and can be raised by muscles under the skin. 

How big is a Porcupine?
Both the male and female African Porcupines weigh from 10 to 24 kilograms (22 to 53 pounds) with very large specicimens weighing up to 30 kg (66 lb).

Although it is similar in appearance to the Echidna it is not closely related. The Echidna, also known as the spiny Anteater, is a type of Monotreme that is covered in stiff, sharp spines mixed with long, coarse hairs. Like the Echidna, the African Porcupine has a browny black coat and paler-coloured spines. The African Porcupine is twice the length of the Echidna. African Porcupines are the largest rodent in their region.

Female porcupines are, on average, about one kilogram heavier than males and both sexes are larger than half a meter long. They are also long-lived for rodents, surviving 12 to 15 years in the wild. 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. African porcupines also have very long mobile whiskers.

©Nigel Dennis


What do Porcupines eat?
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.


Porcupines reach sexual maturity at the end of their first year. Because of their dangerous anatomy, females initiate copulation by presenting to the males. Gestation lasts around 94 days. The young are born in litters of up to 3 young. The average litter size is 1 and the average newborn mass is between 300 to 440 grams.

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.

They 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.


When the porcupine is tired, it grunts and raises its black and white quills. There is one case of a leopard almost killed by a porcupine. Porcupines travel alone or in small family groups. They normally they sleep in the day and feed at night. The African Porcupine is primarily nocturnal, although it may be seen during the day. 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, runnning sideways or backwards to embed their sharp quills in an attacker. Contrary to myth, they cannot 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 cannot be dislodged. Specially modified quills known as rattle quills add to the noise made when shaken.

©Roger de la Harpe


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 holes. They also build dens which can be up to 20m long with a 2m deep living chamber.

Where Porcupine Are Found

Porcupine live in North Africa, South Africa and East Africa.

Latin name

Hystrix africaeaustralis.

Vital Statistics

10 - 24 kg

63 - 81 cm plus 11–20cm for the tail

Gestation Period
94 days

No of Young
1 - 3

Birth Weight
300 - 440 g



Spoor Description

The Porcupine has 5 toes on the front feet, the first toe being reduced to a small stump without a claw. Other toes have well developed claws while the 5 toes on the hind-feet each have a claw. The forefeet and hindfeet each show 3 intermediate pads and 2 proximal pads in the spoor.

Kruger National Park - South African Safari