Next up in the Nocturnal Series is another elusive, yet highly effective rodent, The Cape Porcupine. The largest rodent in Southern Africa is a very sought-after animal for many of the guides and guests that visit Londolozi. These shy-natured animals are extremely courageous when needed and are equipped with nifty built-in means to protect themselves from the most dangerous customers, their quills.
What are Quills?
Porcupines are unique in that their body is covered with long sharp quills that are highly effective when defending themselves against predators. The quills which are found on the hind end of the porcupine can get up to 30cm in length and are thick hard robust quills. A quill is a modified hair, that over time has developed into a sharp strong barbed weapon that the porcupine is able to stand up by contracting tiny muscles in the skin. Essentially it is the same process that we go through when we get goosebumps. With the quills now erect they aid in protecting the porcupine from danger. By raising their quills it also acts as a visual display making themselves seem almost double their size.
If this impressive display isn’t enough, the porcupine will swing its hind courters around to face the threat. Once swung around, the porcupine will charge rapidly backwards towards the attacker making it move quickly away in order to avoid the sharp quills. Often fending off other nocturnal animals such as leopards and lions. If they aren’t quick enough to avoid the charging porcupine, they will get embedded into the skin of the predator and can remain deeply embedded due to the numerous barbs on the tips.
Extraordinary feeding habits
As mentioned above, porcupines are rodents, rodents have a novel characteristic in that their incisors grow continuously throughout their life. This is probably a byproduct of their diet which contains many harder materials such as wood, bark and tubers. An extremely tough digestive system then breaks down the fibrous materials. Some favourite foods are bulbs, roots, and fruit but it’s the bark of the tamboti tree that makes them stand out. Tamboti trees contain a milky latex that can be toxic to many animals but not the porcupine, they devour it with ease.
When their body is requiring extra minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, they are seen to chew on bones, a practice known as osteophagia, this is sure to help with maintaining and growing the extensive set of quills as well as continually growing incisors.
In conclusion, porcupines are truly incredible creatures, and we are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to witness them in their natural habitat at Londolozi. These spiky wonders of the animal kingdom possess a blend of uniqueness, adaptability, and mystery.
From their impressive quills that serve as a formidable defence mechanism to their nocturnal habits and expert foraging skills, porcupines exhibit a remarkable set of traits that have allowed them to thrive in various environments. Their ability to climb trees with surprising agility and their exceptional sense of smell further add to their fascinating repertoire of skills.
The rarity of spotting a porcupine only amplifies the magic of the moment. Whether it’s catching a glimpse of their distinct silhouette against the moonlit sky or observing their curious behaviour as they go about their nightly activities, or simply seeing evidence of one having been moving around from the night before. Encountering a porcupine at Londolozi is an amazing experience that reminds us of the incredible diversity and beauty of the natural world.