Hystrix cristataNorth African crested porcupine

Geographic Range

Hystrix cristata is found in Italy, Sicily, and along the Mediterranean coast of Africa to northern Zaire and Tanzania (Nowak 1991; Amori and Angelici 1992). Some scientists say H. cristata was introduced into Italy by the Romans as a game animal, however fossil records indicate their presence back to the Upper Pleistocene (Amori and Angelici 1992). They are believed to have recently gone extinct in the Balkans (Amori and Angelici 1992).


Hystrix are highly adaptable, found in forests, rocky areas, mountains, croplands, and sandhill deserts (Nowak 1991; Grzimek 1990). They shelter in caves, rock crevices, aardvark holes, or burrows they dig themselves (Grzimek 1990). Burrows are often extensive and used for many years (Nowak 1991).

Physical Description

The average head and body length of the crested porcupine is 600-930 mm, with a tail length of 80-170 mm (Nowak 1991). The head, neck, shoulders, limbs and underside of body are covered with coarse, dark brown or black bristles (Nowak 1991). The animal is characterized by quills along the head, nape, and back that can be raised into a crest, in addition to sturdier quills about 350 mm long along the sides and back half of body generally used for defensive purposes (Nowak 1991). These stronger quills are generally marked with alternating light and dark bands.

Hystrix is distinct among Old World porcupines due to its shorter tail and the presence of rattle quills at the end of the tail (Nowak 1991). These quills broaden at the terminal end and this section is hollow and thin walled, so a hisslike rattle is produced by their vibration (Nowak 1991).

The forefoot of Hystrix has four well-developed, clawed digits (the thumb is regressed), and the hind foot has five (Nowak 1991; Grzimek 1990). The soles of paws are naked and have pads (Grzimek 1990), and their gait is plantigrade (Nowak 1991). Eyes and external ears are very small, with long vibrissae on the head (Nowak 1991; Grzimek 1990).

The animal's skull morphology is characteristic in several ways: (1) the infraorbital foramen is greatly enlarged so that portions of the masseter extend through it and arise from the frontal side surface of the snout (hystricomorphous condition); (2) the angular process is inflected on the lower jaw; (3) the nasal cavity is enlarged; (4) prominent pockets-like inflations are prominent in the skull, upper jaw and lacrimal and turbinate bones (reasons for such pockets are unknown, however they do create enlarged areas of attachment for chewing muscles and could possibly allow animals to smell undergrond bulbs during dry periods or wet dry inhaled air); (4) shin and calf bones are fused; (5) the collar bone is greatly reduced; and (6) five teeth in each jaw -- one incisor, one premolar and three molars (Grzimek 1990).

  • Range mass
    10 to 30 kg
    22.03 to 66.08 lb
  • Average mass
    0.02 kg
    0.04 lb


Much of our knowledge of breeding behavior in H. cristata comes from captive individuals. Nowak (1991) reported that breeding occurs throughout the year at the London Zoo, from July to December in Central Africa, and from March to December in Indian zoos. He also indicated that captive females in South Africa produced litters throughout the year, mainly from August to March with a peak in January. Usually, females have only one litter per year (Nowak 1991). After a 35 day estrous cycle and 112 day gestation period, one to two well developed offspring are born in a grasslined chamber within the burrow system (Nowak 1991; Grzimek 1990). At birth or shortly afterward, the young's eyes are open and incisors are completely broken through (Grzimek 1990). The body is covered with short hair, and back spines are still soft with individual sensing bristles projecting far beyond the spines (Grzimek 1990). Newborn weigh only 3% of the mother's body weight. Yet they leave the den for first time after only one week, at which time the spines begin to harden (Grzimek 1990). The young begin to feed on solid food between two and three weeks, and the five white stripes found on their side start to disappear at four weeks (Grzimek 1990). Hystrix cristata individuals usually reach adult weight at one to two years and are usually sexually mature just before then (Grzimek 1990).

Hystrix cristata females do not show aggression to familiar males, but are aggressive to unknowns (Grzimek 1990). Given their spiny anatomy, mating would be impossible without such an adaptation. To mate, the female raises her tail and the male stands on his hind legs, supporting himself with his forefeet on the female's back (Grzimek 1990). According to Felicioli et al. (1997), no male weight is transferred to the female, no penile lock occurs, and there are multiple intromissions and multiple thrustings. Mating occurs only at night, both in and out of the burrow (Felicioli et al. 1997). The females have two to three pair of lateral thoracic mammae (Nowak 1991) and males have no scrotum and the penis points backward in the resting position (Grzimek 1990).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    66 days


  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    28 (high) years


The social life of H. cristata is based on monogamy and long intensive care of young (Grzimek 1990; Felicioli et al. 1997). Small family groups, consisting of an adult pair and various infants and juveniles, share an elaborate burrow system (Grzimek 1990; Felicioli et al. 1997). To bear young, females often establish a separate den (Nowak 1991). Hystrix are terrestrial, rarely climbing trees, but are able to swim (Nowak 1991). They are also strictly nocturnal (Nowak 1991; Bruno and Riccardi 1995) although Corsini et al. (1995) found that moonlight avoidance was slight and only occurred in open areas (unlike H. indica in which significant moonlight avoidance has been documented). Individuals may remain in burrows through winter but don't truly hibernate (Nowak 1991).

The quills of crested porcupines serve as an effective defense against predation. When disturbed, they raise and fan quills to create an illusion of greater size (Nowak 1991). If the disturbance continues, they stamp their feet, whirr quills and charge the enemy, back end first, attempting to stab with the thicker, shorter quills (Nowak 1991; Grzimek 1990). Such attacks have been known to kill lions, leopard, hyenas, and humans (Nowak 1991).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Hystrix cristata is an herbivore that eats bark, roots, tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, fallen fruits and cultivated crops (Nowak 1991; Bruno and Riccardi 1995; Grzimek 1990). They occasionally consume insects, small vertebrates and carrion (Nowak 1991; Grzimek 1990). In addition, they commonly gnaw on bones for calcium and to sharpen incisors (Nowak 1991; Grzimek 1990). Hystrix cristata can travel significant distances in search of food (Nowak 1991; Pigozzi and Patterson 1990).

Crested porcupines have high crowned teeth with plane chewing surfaces for grinding plant cells that are then digested in the stomach (Grzimek 1990). Undigested fibers are retained in the enlarged appendix and anterior large intestine and broken up by microorganisms (Grzimek 1990).

  • Primary Diet
  • herbivore
    • lignivore
    • eats sap or other plant foods
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Porcupine quills are often used as ornaments and talismans (Nowak 1991). The meat of these animals is considered a delicacy, and thus they are illegally hunted (Amori and Angelici 1992).

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Porcupines are considered agricultural pests because they gnaw the bark of plantation rubber trees and eat corn, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cassava, and young cotton plants (Nowak 1991).

Conservation Status

Hystrix cristata is listed as endangered (Amori and Angelici 1992) and has, at least in Italy, been protected since 1974 (Bruno and Riccardi 1995). They are poached for food and killed because they are considered an agricultural pest (Nowak 1991; Amori and Angelici 1992). In addition to humans, enemies include lions, leopards, large birds of prey, and hyenas (Grzimek 1990).


M. Elsbeth McPhee (author), University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Amori, G. and F.M. Angelici. 1992. Note on the status of the crested porcupine Hystrix cristata in Italy. Lutra, 35:44-50.

Bruno, E. and C. Riccardi. 1995. The diet of the Crested porcupine Hystrix cristata L., 1758 in a Mediterranean rural area. Zeitschrift fr S"ugetierkunde, 60:226-236.

Corsini, M.T., S. Lovari, and S. Sonnino. 1995. Temporal activity patterns of crested porcupines Hystrix cristata. J. Zool., London, 236:43-54.

Felicioli, A., A. Grazzini, and L. Santini. 1997. The mounting behaviour of a pair of crested porcupine Hystrix cristata L. Mammalia, 61(1):119-123.

Storch, G. 1990. Porcupines. Pages 300-307 in B. Grzimek, editor. Grzimek1s Encyclopedia of Mammals. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Nowak, R.M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th Edition, Vol. I. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Pigozzi, G. and I.J. Patterson. 1990. Movements and diet of crested porcupines in the Maremma Natural Park, central Italy. Acta Theriologica, 35(3-4):173-180.