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Old World Porcupines: Hystricidae - Behavior And Reproduction

quills female male predators

Legendary for their ability to defend themselves, Old World porcupines (like their New World relatives) use their formidable spiny armor to fend off predators (mainly birds of prey, hyenas, pythons, large owls, leopards, and wild cats). Except for Trichys species, these shy, rather anxious creatures generally try to scare away an opponent first by clicking their teeth together, grunting and huffing, and stamping their hind feet, which rattles their quills to make an intimidating buzzing noise. If that tactic fails, the porcupines launch a lightning-fast backward or sideways charge toward the predator in an effort to puncture the offender's skin deeply with its quills.

The mating habits of porcupines are the subject of many jokes and much curiosity. The truth is close to the old punchline, "Very carefully." Old World porcupines engage in a complex courtship that occurs once (occasionally twice) a year from March to December. It involves a mating dance during which the male showers the female with urine. If she rejects her suitor, the female becomes very aggressive, stamping her feet and shaking her quills. If she approves of the male, he will stand still in front of her and then move toward and away from her many times while making certain sounds. The final phase of the courtship occurs when the female raises her hindquarters into the air and lowers her chest to the ground. The male approaches and mounts her with one paw on each of her sides, holding on loosely but not leaning on her at all. Their intercourse is accompanied by loud squeals, grunts, and whines.

A MYTH DISPELLED

It is not true that porcupines can "throw" or project their quills in any way, but they do detach easily—sometimes just when the animals rattle them to try to scare away predators. The quills do not carry poison, although bacteria on the shafts often cause serious infections if they puncture deeply enough. Infections eventually kill many predators unlucky enough to tangle with a porcupine.

The female will carry her young (gestate) for 93 to 112 days, and gives birth to one or two pups (sometimes up to four) in a grassy nest within the multichambered burrow. The 12-ounce (340-gram) pups have fur when they are born and can move on their own immediately. They nurse for three or four months, but after just a week the pup's quills begin to form and they may leave the nest with their mother. Old World porcupines reach sexual maturity at anywhere from nine to 18 months.

Old World Porcupines: Hystricidae - Indian Crested Porcupine (hystrix Indica): Species Accounts [next] [back] Old World Porcupines: Hystricidae - Physical Characteristics

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