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Spiny Rats: Echimyidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Spiny rats are nocturnal, meaning they are mostly active at night. Most die if they are exposed to heat or dryness. Depending on the species, they live either individually, in small groups, or like the broad-headed spiny rat, in large colonies. The average lifespan is two to four years in the wild.

They are generally territorial, meaning they are protective of an area they consider home and claim exclusively for themselves. Males and females have separate territories. Males defend their burrows against other males but females are less aggressive and their territories frequently overlap. Territories are usually small, from 1.2 to 14.8 acres (0.5 to 6 hectares) and can vary greatly between the seasons.

Spiny rats play a critical role in the health of the rainforest of Central and South America by dispersing the seeds from a wide variety of trees and other forest plants through their excretions. They are also an important source of food for predators such as ocelots, owls, boa constrictors, anacondas, and jaguars.


As a defensive feature against predators, spiny rats have a tail that easily breaks off. If grasped by the tail, it will break off between the fourth and fifth vertebrae. The rat can then escape to its burrow. There is little blood loss and the break does not appear to harm the rats. However, this way of escape can only be used once since the tail does not grow back. A survey of spiny rats in central Panama found that 15 to 20 percent of all adult spiny rats did not have tails.

Little is known about the breeding habits of many species. In general, spiny rats breed throughout the year and females can give birth to four to six litters a year. The litter size ranges from one to seven babies, with the average being two to four. Gestation period, the time the female carries the young in her womb, varies but is generally sixty to seventy days. In the punaré, a species of spiny rat, the females produce two or three litters per year and gestation period is from ninety-five to ninety-eight days.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsSpiny Rats: Echimyidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Spiny Rat (proechimys Semispinosus): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, SPINY RATS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS