Posts Tagged 'Indian Porcupine'

Vanishing Species – The Indian Porcupine

An Article by Mohan Pai


The Indian Porcupine
Hystrix indica

A rodent with deadly quills that has turned many a tigers and leopards into man-eaters.

Many conservationists, most notably, Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson, have documented and noted that many tigers and leopards became man-eaters after having fought and been injured by porcupines, which indicates their ferocity and their lack of predators. One such example was the Leopard of Gummalapur, which when examined, was shown to have two porcupine quills lodged in its right forefoot.

The Indian Porcupine or Indian Crested Porcupine (Hystrix indica) is a member of the Old World porcupines. It is quite an adaptable rodent, found throughout southern Asia and the Middle East. It is tolerant of several different habitats: mountains, tropical and subtropical grasslands, scrublands, and forests. This is a large rodent, growing more that three feet long and weighs 32 pounds.It is covered in multiple layers of quills. The longest quills grow from its shoulders to about a third of the animal’s length. Its tail is covered in short, hollow quills that can rattle when threatened. It has broad feet and long claws for digging. When attacked, the Indian porcupine raises its quills and rattles the hollow quills on its tail. If the predator persists past these threats, the porcupine launches a backwards assault, hoping to stab its attacker with its quills. It does this so effectively that most brushes between predators and the Indian porcupine end in death or severe injury. Popular belief that the porcupine shoots its quills is not true.

Geographic Range
The Indian porcupine is found throughout southeast and central Asia and in parts of the Middle East, including such countries as India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Indian porcupine is highly adaptable to multiple environments. Although they usually favor rocky hill sides, the species can also be found in tropical and temperate scrublands, grasslands, and forests. They are also found throughout the Himalayan mountains, reaching up to elevations of 2400 meters.
Physical Description
The Indian porcupine’s head and body measure 70-90 centimeters (cm) in length, with the tail adding an additional 8-10 cm. Its hair is highly modified to form multiple layers of spines.

Beneath the longer, thinner spines lies a layer of shorter and thicker ones. Each quill is brown or black in color, with alternating bands of white. Spines vary in length, with the neck and shoulder quills being the longest, measuring 15 to 30 cm. The tail is covered with shorter spines that appear white in color. Among these, are longer, hollow, rattling quills that are used to alarm potential predators. The feet and hands are broad, with long claws that are used for burrowing.
Brood size varies, ranging from2 to 4 offspring per year. Young are born with their eyes open, and the body is covered by short soft quills. The Indian porcupine is usually monogamous, with both parents being found in the burrow with their offspring throughout the year.
When irritated or alarmed, the Indian porcupine raises its quills and rattles the hollow spines on its tail. If the disturbance continues, the species launches a backward attack and clashes its rear against the offending animal. This action drives the spines deep into the enemy, often leading to severe injury or death. The majority of the damage is done by the short quills that are hidden beneath the longer, thinner spines on the tail and back. Quite often, these quills become dislodged and remain in the victim.Indian porcupines are nocturnal, with the species seeking shelter in caves, between rocks, or in its burrow during the day. The burrow is usually self-constructed, with a long entrance tunnel, multiple exits and a large inner chamber. Gnawed bones and most of the excavated dirt are usually left at the entrance.
Food Habits
The main food source for the Indian porcupine is vegetable material of all kinds, including fruits, grains, and roots . They have also been known to chew on bones, in search of minerals (such as calcium) that help their spines grow. The species utilizes both natural plants and agricultural crops as food sources.The Indian porcupine uses crop plants extensively as a food resource, thus leading to a significant loss for agriculture. In addition, the species can be extremely destructive to gardens and landscaping, as they burrow through or consume the resources in these areas.
Porcupines are hunted in many countries for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and for their quills, which many cultures use for decoration and religious symbols. Because of their fondness for human-grown crops, they are also hunted as a pest species. Often infested with fleas and ticks, porcupines sometimes carry serious bacterial infections.

References: Wikipedia, Animal Diversity Web.

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