20 June 2015

Porcupines Feetures

The Cape Porcupine is the largest rodent in this part of the world, and as a result also the largest rodent photographed earlier this year on the small farm near Paarl.

Porcupine (Ystervark - Hystrix africaeaustralis) amongst some denser vegetation

Porcupines can still, in this day and age, be found living close to human settlements in the more rural areas and along the urban edge. Given that there is enough natural cover, food and a place for them to rest underground during the day they can live happy lives.

The most intriguing camera trap photo I got was of this individual with a peculiar injury.

Porcupine with a strange injury on its right hip

I'm not sure what might have caused the injury. Maybe from fighting, or maybe it got injured by some of the old farm equipment? The property is also on the corner of a highway and a large road, but I think any collision with a vehicle would have been fatal. Porcupines are common victims of motor accidents, the scene of the crime usually marked by a plethora of broken quills scattered across the road. I'm sure that most of the casualties can be attributed to their nocturnal habits and tendency to not run away when threatened but instead rely on their formidable armour the deter attackers.

This photograph also nicely illustrates two interesting characteristics of Porcupines: their quills and feet.

Porcupines are covered by harsh think hair and spiky quills, but not all quills are the same. The quills have specialised into a range of spikes, from small short spikes to long thick strong spikes used for defence. The long thin wires on their heads give them that characteristic sleek hairstyle. They also have remarkable whiskers.

The other feature that can be seen very well in the photograph is the feet. They have a very human-like quality. This is because both primates (humans) and rodents (Porcupines) use plantigrade locomotion to get around. It can be difficult to see and appreciate the similarity in smaller rodents, but since Porcupines can grow over 80 cm long and weigh up to 30 kg it makes it easier to see the resemblance.

To wrap things up here is a video of the family a few weeks later visiting one of the small ponds at the farm.

Video: Porcupines at the pond