New at the Zoo: Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine, Quillbur

Don’t let his prickly appearance deter you – Quillbur is a very friendly porcupine! Get to know our new prehensile-tailed porcupine in this Q&A with Small Mammal House keepers.

Why did Quillbur come to the Zoo?

Quillbur arrived at the Zoo in mid-October and has joined our two other prehensile-tailed porcupines at the Small Mammal House: mom, Bess, and her one-year-old daughter, Beatrix. We received a recommendation to breed Quillbur with both females and are hopeful that they will be successful parents.

What would visitors be surprised to learn about this species?

While prehensile-tailed porcupines do use their quills for protection, they don’t shoot them! Instead, their quills become piloerect, or stand on end, like a human getting goosebumps. This allows them to appear larger and intimidate their predators. If this scare-tactic doesn’t work, a porcupine will charge at a predator. Their quills have barbed ends that hook into a predator’s skin once pierced. It is a myth that they can shoot their quills.

What does he eat?

Prehensile-tailed porcupines are arboreal, meaning that they spend the majority of their lives in trees. In the wild, most of their diet consists of nuts, fruits and leaves. We replicate that diet as closely as we can at the Zoo by feeding him fruits, vegetables and assorted leafy vegetation.

Prehensile-tailed porcupine Quilbur at the Small Mammal House.

What makes their tails unique?

These porcupines have prehensile tails, meaning that they can use them to grip onto branches when climbing, almost like a fifth limb. Using their tail, they anchor themselves onto a branch to grab hard-to-reach food or use their tail to steady themselves while they use both hands to eat.

What is Quillbur’s personality like?

Quillbur is a very friendly porcupine and is eager to interact with his keepers. He had a good relationship with his previous keepers and we are excited to see that he is responsive to his new animal care team.

When is the best time to see Quillbur?

Quillbur is always on exhibit at the Small Mammal House during building hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We feed the porcupines around 2 p.m., so they are typically most active then. Visitors can tell Quillbur apart as he is currently in a different exhibit than our other prehensile-tailed porcupines, Bess and Beatrix.

This article appears in the February 2019 issue of National Zoo News.