Prehensile Tailed Porcupine (Brazilian Porcupine)

STATUSLeast Concern


DIETVegetation including leaves, tender, stems, fruits, blossoms, and roots

RANGEFrom Colombia and Venezuela to northern Argentina

HABITATRainforests; occasionally enters cultivated areas

Prehensile Tailed Porcupine (Brazilian Porcupine)

Adult prehensile tailed porcupines have skin varying in hue from yellow-orange rust to brownish-black and they are covered with long quills on the dorsal (top) side. The quills are semi-hollow which are tricolored with white tips terminating in a barbed end. The prehensile tails do not have spines and are used for stabilization and grasping while climbing as well as a means of hanging. The tail also has a callus pad near the ventral tip in order to help grasp branches and vines. These porcupines have developed a specialized foot with long-clawed digits, which are ideal for moving and foraging among trees.

Prehensile tailed porcupines have small ears, long whiskers, wide nasal openings and specialized procumbent upper incisors. There is a thin band of bare skin around the eyes that extends all the way to the nose.

Habitat/Range:  These porcupines live in rainforests between 150-2500 meters in elevation. They occur both in coastal and Amazonian areas of Peru. Occasionally, this species enters cultivated areas.

This species is broadly distributed from Colombia and Venezuela south to northern Argentina (Eisenberg and Redford, 1999); occurring in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela (Alberico et al. 2000; Emmons and Feer 1997; Zapata and Castro 2001).

Prehensile tailed porcupines are thought to be similar to North American porcupines, in that they tend to have individual territories.  Females have exclusive territories, but males often have territories that overlap and may vary widely in size.

Diet in Wild: All porcupines are nocturnal rodents with a great sense of smell. To make quick work of available food, these herbivores have sharp, chisel-like front teeth.

The diet is primarily vegetation, including leaves, tender, stems, fruits, blossoms, and roots. They get at the cambium layer of trees by peeling away the bark. They also have been found to raid guava, bananas and corn from plantations.

Porcupines may gnaw on bones to sharpen their teeth and to get salt at the same time.

Diet in Zoo:  The porcupines at the Lehigh valley Zoo are fed a variety of fruit and vegetables including yams, Bananas, apples, carrots, spinach, kale as well as herbivore pellets.

Other food items that can be offered:  Leafeater biscuits, corn on the cob, monkey chow, peanuts, sunflower seeds.  Bones can be offered as an occasional treat.

Predators:  Their quills are a great defense against predators. Some birds of prey or large mammals may attempt to go after these porcupines, but few have any success. Their biggest threat is humans, who hunt them for food.

Life Cycle/ Social Structure:  Prehensile tailed porcupines spend most of their time alone or in pairs moving through the trees. They may den in tree nests, rock crevices, brush, logs, and in tangled tree roots.

Prehensile tailed porcupines are nocturnal and arboreal. During the day, individuals rest in trees at a height of 6-10 meters. When excited, porcupines stamp their hind feet. Vocalizations consist of growls and cries.

There is no breeding season. Little is known about courtship and mating interactions between the sexes. Gestation lasts 203 days, after which one precocial young is born. Young weigh around 415 grams at birth and can climb almost immediately. Weaning occurs after 10 weeks, adult size is reached in less than a year, and sexual maturity (for females) is achieved in 19 months. Females are able to mate again right after young are born.

Life Span: 15 years in the wild, 20 or more years in human care.

Interesting Facts:

  • The Latin translation of porcupine is porcus, meaning “pig,” and spina, meaning “thorn.”
    Porcupines tend to grunt when foraging for food.
    The philosopher Aristotle warned of the dangers of getting too close to a porcupine: the quilled beast could “shoot its deadly needlelike darts” over great distances at hunters and dogs alike. This is not true, porcupines cannot shoot their quills. They instead are able to raise the quills, which are modified hairs, when they are threatened.

Conservation Message:  Rainforest Conservation- This species dwells in rainforest type habitats. Deforestation is taking place in these rain forested areas to grow crops. This is causing an area previously very diverse in species to become less inhabitable to animals. Instead of many species of plants for food sources, areas are clear cut and grow only one crop species, which are protected by humans.

What You Can Do: Be aware of what products you use come from the rainforest. If possible, chose sustainably produced products. Shade grown coffee is a great example. Instead of clear cutting rainforests to grow coffee beans, this type of coffee is made from beans grown in the shade of rainforest trees, allowing for a more natural landscape and less disturbance to the environment. It is harder to find shade grown coffee, but fair trade coffee is also a good alternative to help the rain-forests.  

Bartos, Christine. Husbandry Standards for Keeping Porcupines in Captivity, Baltimore Zoo