The North African crested porcupine has a primarily herbivorous diet, comprising bark, roots, tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, fallen fruit and cultivated crops (1) (2), although it will occasionally supplement this diet with insects, small vertebrates and carrion (2). It may gnaw on the bones when feeding on carrion, which not only allows the porcupine to sharpen its incisors, but also provides a source of essential calcium (2) (4).
The teeth and digestive system of the North African crested porcupine are well-adapted for its diet of largely plant matter. It has sharp, chisel-like incisors, high-crowned teeth with chewing surfaces for grinding plant cells. Undigested fibres are retained in the porcupine’s enlarged appendix and in part of the large intestine where they are broken-down by symbiotic gut microorganisms (4).
The North African crested porcupine is nocturnal and all foraging activity takes place during the night, before it returns to a den where it resides during the day (1). It forages alone and will travel long distances in search of food – up to 15 kilometres each night (3).
Despite being a solitary forager, the North African crested porcupine lives in small family groups consisting of an adult pair with their young (4). They live together sharing an elaborate burrow system (5), which they may remain in during winter, although they do not undergo true hibernation (2).
The North African crested porcupine is monogamous (4). Mating takes place at night (5), which, due to the North African crested porcupine’s spiny body, is a thorny task, and involves the male adopting a very particular mating position (4).
Females usually have only one litter per year, containing one or two, occasionally three, offspring (2). The young are born in the wet season (3), after a gestation period of 112 days, in a separate grass-lined birth chamber within the burrow system (2). North African crested porcupine young are well-developed at birth, with open eyes and developed incisors, although the spines on the back are soft (4). The young porcupines, known as ‘porcupettes’, have five white stripes on their sides that fade after four weeks-of-age (4).
The porcupettes leave the den for the first time within just one week after birth, coinciding with the time when their spines begin to harden (4). Porcupettes feed on the female’s milk during the first two to three weeks of life, after which they begin to consume solid food (4). Individuals reach sexual maturity just prior to attaining their adult weight at one or two years of age (4).
Predators of the North African crested porcupine include lions, leopards, large birds of prey and hyenas (4). When confronted, the North African crested porcupine raises and fans its quills to appear large and imposing. If this fails to deter the predator, the North African crested porcupine will proceed to stamp its feet, whirr its quills to produce a rattling sound, and will then charge its enemy, back-end first, attempting to stab its enemy with its thicker, shorter quills. The deep wounds inflicted from these attacks can prove fatal and crested porcupines have been known to injure lions, leopards, hyenas and even humans (2).