For Release: February 8, 2006
John Gibbons (202) 633-3083
Prehensile-tailed Porcupine Born at the National Zoo
The adult female prehensile-tailed porcupine at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo gave birth early Wednesday morning, Feb. 8, to a single baby in its exhibit at the Zoo’s Small Mammal House.
The baby porcupine, also known as a porcupette, was born in the early hours before keepers arrived to work. The birth, however, was not a surprise. Veterinarians at the National Zoo had performed an ultrasound on the mother porcupine last month to confirm the pregnancy.
National Zoo veterinarians also performed the baby porcupine’s first health exam Wednesday and said that it seemed healthy. They were unable to determine if it is male or female because porcupine sexual organs are internal; it can take up to six weeks before the gender is known. Scientists at the National Zoo plan to test DNA from the baby’s quills in the coming weeks to determine its gender.
When born, a baby prehensile-tailed porcupine looks very different than its parents?its fur is rusty orange unlike the adults’ dark brown and black fur. One thing they have in common, however, is quills. Babies are born with quills, but the quills are soft during delivery and harden in less than an hour.
This newborn is the fourth prehensile-tailed porcupine at the National Zoo. It is on exhibit in the Zoo’s Small Mammal House, along with its parents and older sister, which was born last April.
Prehensile-tailed porcupines, which are native to South America, use their tails for grasping and hanging. Porcupines are mostly nocturnal, and can become quite aggressive when threatened. They shake their quills, growl and curl up into a ball if caught.