Prehensile Tail Porcupine

My Run-ins with the Prehensile Tail Porcupine

I first learned about prehensile tail porcupines when I was sixteen. I was on a class trip to Busch Garden’s where my classmates and I got to spend three days working behind the scenes in Tampa, Florida with the zookeepers. The keepers had this critter perched on a wooden platform where people could come up and pet it. I was reluctant, thinking the quills would be painful to touch, but they actually weren’t that bad! The featured photo on this post is from that experience (please excuse me while I cringe over that picture!) I later worked with these guys again at my internship at Wildlife World Zoo where I managed to snag a few of the quills they shed for a scrapbook.

 

Overview of the Species

Prehensile tail porcupines are very unique looking. They almost remind me of a cartoon character. Their bodies are covered in short black and white quills that defends against predators. They also have a velvety soft nose and a prehensile tail for which they were named. This tail is made up entirely of muscle and is used as a fifth limb to assist in navigating their habitat as arboreal animals (tree-dwelling) in South America.

The prehensile tail porcupine is classified in the rodent order by scientific taxonomy, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They traditionally weigh about four to eleven pounds and are approximately twelve to twenty-four inches in length. This species of porcupine is nocturnal and an herbivore, consuming any vegetation easily found in treetops. Females reach sexual maturity around nineteen months and can continue reproducing until about twelve years of age. Babies are born with soft quills in order to prevent injury to the mother, these quills harden within an hour after birth.  The baby prehensile tail porcupine also has the ability to climb immediately after being born.  The average lifespan of a prehensile tail porcupine is twelve to seventeen years.

Any Threats?

Fortunately, the prehensile tail porcupine is well adapted to fend off potential threats from predators! They stiffen their quills when threatened, but no species of porcupine can shoot their quills out of their body which is a common misconception. However, porcupines do shake their quills in order to intimidate potential predators which is most likely where the misconception originated. This porcupine does have some natural predators, such as large birds or big cats native to South America. Sometimes the porcupines forage for food on farms and are potentially hunted and killed by humans. As of right now, the prehensile tail porcupine is listed as least concern according to the Cincinnati Zoo. 

 

 

To learn more about the prehensile tail porcupine, please check out the video below from Discovery!

 

 

 

 

Three-Banded Armadillo

Wildlife Encounters

Recently I attended an event put on by a local farm in Kingston, New Hampshire. While there, I came across an organization called Wildlife Encounters. This New Hampshire-based program provides education and outreach through live animal interactions. As I observed the various animals, one interesting little critter caught my eye. Quickly running back and forth within an enclosed area, was a small armadillo about the size of a softball. There are over twenty species of armadillos, all of which, aside from one, live in Latin America. These omnivores can vary in size and characteristics, but have one very distinct feature in common. They are the only mammal covered with a shell. This unique adaptation which provides protection from predators, is where they get their name. Armadillo translates to “little armored one” in Spanish. This armor is made up of boney plates that cover most of their body including the back, head, legs, and tail. The armadillo on display through Wildlife Encounters was a three-banded armadillo named Athena, after the greek goddess of war who is often depicted in armor, of course!

Three-Banded Armadillo

The three-banded armadillo is native to the South American rainforest, particularly Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They are approximately nine inches long, weigh about three pounds, and consists of a light brown color. This type of armadillo is unique in that it is the only species that can curl itself into a complete ball. The armadillo will often leave a small opening when curled up and will sharply close around any predator claw or snout that attempts to explore the opening, making this a powerful defense mechanism. They also have the ability to run very quickly to escape predation. This armadillo differs from the other species in that they don’t dig their own burrows, but rather find a home in abandoned ones. Although they prefer a solitary, there have been groups of up to twelve individuals sharing a burrow in the winter. They can live up to fifteen years in the wild and twenty years in captivity.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I think these guys are just the cutest! Athena reminded me of a small bug, not only in appearance but in the way she quickly scurried around her enclosure as well. I also observed her nuzzle her long snout into the blankets in her pen in what appeared to be an attempt to get comfortable, very adorable! Her handler Meghan, demonstrated the ability to close into a ball and it was fascinating to be able to see how nature has a way of working so perfectly. Her head and tail closed together like pieces of a puzzle. Athena is only about three, so hopefully she will be educating and entertaining people around New England for years to come!

Conservation Status

The three-banded armadillo is listed as near-threatened due to habitat loss and overhunting for use of food. As of right now, the populations are declining and there are no significant endeavors to preserve this species, although many organizations are making efforts. The three-banded armadillo gained significant attention from conservationists in 2014 during the FIFA world cup. The species is commonly seen as a mascot for soccer in Brazil which was where the world cup was held that year. Many organizations urged FIFA to partake in conservation efforts.

What can you do to help?

So you’ve been inspired to save the armadillos! The biggest thing that can be done for the three-banded armadillo is to work on rainforest conservation efforts. Their biggest threat is habitat loss so getting connected with organizations dedicated to preserving the rain forests of South America is a great start!

 

Please check out Wildlife Encounters linked below for more information and a special thanks to their staff Jenica and Meghan for taking the time to talk to me about the organization and this amazing species!

http://www.wildlifeencountersnh.com 

 

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