• Porcupines are members of the Rodentia order of mammals. Nearly 40 percent of all mammals are part of this same grouping, which also includes prairie dogs, chipmunks, and mice. Porcupines are a diverse grouping of quilled creatures and can be found in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. 

    The Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) photographed here in its native range at a wildlife facility in Singapore) is a species that inhabits forests and other habitats where it can build a suitable burrow from India and Nepal, east to China, and south through the Malay Peninsula, and even on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. They are ground foragers, mainly feeding on roots, tubers, bark, and fallen fruits.

    As with many species, the overall trend in their population numbers is decreasing, and much of their habitat throughout this wide region of South and Southeast Asia is fragmented. Protected areas for conservation are critical for preserving suitable habitat. The porcupine is hunted in the wild and even farmed in some places.

    The porcupine’s impressive quills give them a distinctive look and cover much of their bodies. Protruding sharply from their back and tail, the rigid quills are a deterrent for many predators looking for a meal. On its tail, the porcupine has hollow quills that it can shake to produce a sound meant to scare off potential threats and predators. Young porcupines have soft hairs that will transform into quills as they mature. 

    1. How does the Malayan porcupine use its quills?

      The porcupine uses its quills to ward off predators. Tigers or other predators looking for a meal may get  a face full of painful quills when attacking. The hollow quills of the tail can also produce a noise used to intimidate potential predators.

    2. Do all rodents (species that are part of the Rodentia order of mammals) live in burrows?

      Many rodents do live in burrows in the ground, including many types of mice, prairie dogs, and porcupines. Animals that primarily burrow are called fossorial. Other rodents such as capybara and beavers are semi-aquatic. The flying squirrel is an example of a rodent that makes its nests in trees, and is considered arboreal.  

    3. What threats are there to the health and survival of Malayan porcupine populations?

      Habitat loss is a major threat to the health of porcupine populations. They can also become victim to traps set by hunters in search of other prey. Their quills are also desired by some for traditional practices. And even their body parts—their gallstones in particular—are prized as a medicine for cancer and other ailments. The medicinal benefits of this have not been widely verified or studied, and the popularity of the gallstones has been damaging to populations of the porcupine.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    burrow Noun

    small hole or tunnel used for shelter.

    forage Verb

    to search for food or other needs.

    fragmentation Noun

    breaking up of large habitats into smaller, isolated chunks. Fragmentation is one of the main forms of habitat destruction.

    mammal Noun

    animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

    order Noun

    taxonomic rank of related organisms between class (more broadly related) and family (more specifically related).

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    quill Noun

    hollow sharp spine.

    rodentia Noun

    large order of mammals characterized by ever-growing upper and lower incisor teeth.