My Run-ins with the Prehensile Tail Porcupine
I first learned about prehensile tail porcupines when I was sixteen. I was on a class trip to Busch Garden’s where my classmates and I got to spend three days working behind the scenes in Tampa, Florida with the zookeepers. The keepers had this critter perched on a wooden platform where people could come up and pet it. I was reluctant, thinking the quills would be painful to touch, but they actually weren’t that bad! The featured photo on this post is from that experience (please excuse me while I cringe over that picture!) I later worked with these guys again at my internship at Wildlife World Zoo where I managed to snag a few of the quills they shed for a scrapbook.
Overview of the Species
Prehensile tail porcupines are very unique looking. They almost remind me of a cartoon character. Their bodies are covered in short black and white quills that defends against predators. They also have a velvety soft nose and a prehensile tail for which they were named. This tail is made up entirely of muscle and is used as a fifth limb to assist in navigating their habitat as arboreal animals (tree-dwelling) in South America.
The prehensile tail porcupine is classified in the rodent order by scientific taxonomy, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They traditionally weigh about four to eleven pounds and are approximately twelve to twenty-four inches in length. This species of porcupine is nocturnal and an herbivore, consuming any vegetation easily found in treetops. Females reach sexual maturity around nineteen months and can continue reproducing until about twelve years of age. Babies are born with soft quills in order to prevent injury to the mother, these quills harden within an hour after birth. The baby prehensile tail porcupine also has the ability to climb immediately after being born. The average lifespan of a prehensile tail porcupine is twelve to seventeen years.
Fortunately, the prehensile tail porcupine is well adapted to fend off potential threats from predators! They stiffen their quills when threatened, but no species of porcupine can shoot their quills out of their body which is a common misconception. However, porcupines do shake their quills in order to intimidate potential predators which is most likely where the misconception originated. This porcupine does have some natural predators, such as large birds or big cats native to South America. Sometimes the porcupines forage for food on farms and are potentially hunted and killed by humans. As of right now, the prehensile tail porcupine is listed as least concern according to the Cincinnati Zoo.
To learn more about the prehensile tail porcupine, please check out the video below from Discovery!