Animal Facts

Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine

Scientific Name: Coendou prehensilis

Fast Fact:

Like all porcupines, the prehensile-tailed porcupine is not able to throw its quills (also called spines). Quills are barbed at the end and will become lodged in the person or animal who comes too close. Microscopic barbs at the end of each quill make them quite difficult and painful to remove once embedded.

Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine

Prehensile-tailed porcupines exhibit a variety of communication skills. They are usually silent and solitary, but when in contact with other porcupines they emit calls such as whines and low moans. Even though they seem docile and calm they can become quite pugnacious, even aggressive and confrontational, and at times may bite or attempt to injure each other with their spines. Threats are expressed by teeth chattering and quill rattling. When excited, they stamp their hind feet and emit growls and cries. If caught in the open, their best defense is to roll into a ball, exposing all those razor-sharp, barbed quills.

STATUS: Prehensile-tailed porcupines are classified as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but destruction of the rainforest may be causing their numbers to decline in Brazil.

HABITAT: Prehensile-tailed porcupines live in many different types of forests throughout South America. They are active during the night (nocturnal); during the day they sleep lodged in the tree tops, 20 to 30 feet above the ground.

DIET: While prehensile-tailed porcupines mainly eat leaves, tender stems, fruits, seeds, blossoms and roots, they will also eat insects and small reptiles. They have been known to raid cultivated crops such as corn, bananas and guavas. These porcupines are also capable of stripping away the bark of trees to eat the substance beneath the bark called the cambium layer.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The prehensile-tailed porcupine’s distinctive characteristic is its backward-facing, barbed quills. The underbelly is covered with grayish fur. Each digit on its four feet is equipped with impressively long and curved claws. These claws are a great adaptation for their arboreal (tree-dwelling) life style. One of the smallest porcupine species, the average size for this animal is 7 to 13 pounds. They have a unique naked, pink nose that has a bulbous, swollen appearance. Their bodies are thick and heavy with relatively short legs. Their prehensile tail is constantly coiled around branches affording them security and a stable perch. The tail is nearly naked of hair and quills.

What does 'Prehensile' Mean?

From the Latin prehensus, meaning “to seize,” prehensile means adapted for seizing or grasping, especially by wrapping around. The prehensile-tailed porcupine’s tail is nearly as long as its body and is thick and strong. It enables the animal to maneuver through the trees, reaching out to the smallest branches where it can strip them of its favorite foods without fear of losing its grip.

Rocket Fuel