Discover the largest rodent in South Africa.
On one hot sunny day, while one of our lecturers was on a bush walk in the magical Fever tree forest near Makuleke with a group of students, he heard a rustling noise from the bushes. He left the students in the capable hands of the backup guide and decided to investigate the sound. He went down on his belly and leopard crawled to where the noise was coming from and peered under the bush, and he saw, calmly looking back at him, the largest rodent in South Africa, a porcupine! These large rodents are a scarce, extraordinary sight, as they are primarily nocturnal animals. He went back and called the students to have a look.
Our students learnt some interesting things that day!
These little creatures are feisty! They are covered with thick, bristle-like hairs and have quills and spines on their backs and flanks. The spines on their tails are hollow and open-ended, and when feeling threatened, they shake their tails to create rattling sounds, which is quite intimidating. They also display other warning signs, such as stomping, hissing and grunting.
Their teeth set them apart.
They are part of the rodent family because their teeth never stop growing. And just like any other rodent, they like to chew. Rodents need to gnaw on things to keep their teeth short. With a healthy appetite for wood, a favourite time is ring-barking trees because they can 🙂
A delicious feast!
Porcupines spend their nights searching for fallen fruit and berries and digging up roots, tubers, and bulbs. They also gather animal bones in their caves and practice osteophagia, primarily by young porcupines or pregnant females.
South Africa’s largest rodent teeth marks. Photograph © Cameron Clements
The largest rodent, the porcupine tracks look almost like a tiny human child’s footprint, with five toes on the front foot. Their tracks are “plantigrade tracks”, where the whole surface of the foot touches the ground while walking – just like with humans and baboons.
Photograph © Norman Chauke