Types of Porcupines

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Spiny porcupines are categorized into two distinct geographic groups: Old World (Hystricidae) and New World (Erethizontidae). Both families contain somewhat similar quilled, slow-moving species; however, Old World porcupines occur in Africa and Asia, while New World porcupines inhabit the Americas.

North American Porcupine

North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) are members of the New World family. They have the northernmost range of any porcupine species, and are the only porcupine found in the United States. They can weigh up to 30 pounds, making the North American porcupine one of the largest rodents in North America (second in size only to the beaver).

Brazilian Porcupine

Brazilian porcupines, also known as prehensile-tailed porcupines or the taxonomic Coendou prehensilis, are a New World species that inhabits the tropical regions of South American from Colombia through Paraguay. This species lacks the long quills present on the North American porcupine, but features a muscular, prehensile tail. Brazilian porcupines use their tails to grasp and climb branches, a must for their arboreal lifestyles.

Dwarf Porcupines

The New World dwarf porcupines include two species: the Bahia hairy dwarf porcupine (Sphiggurus insidiosus) and the Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine (Sphiggurus mexicanus). Both dwarf porcupine subspecies embody their names -- they weigh less than 5 pounds and measure less than 30 inches long when full-grown.

Brush-Tailed Porcupines

Old World brush-tailed porcupines include the African brush-tailed (Atherurus africanus) and the Asiatic brush-tailed (Atherurus macrourus). The African species is endemic to Gambia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, whereas the Asiatic species is distributed throughout Southeast Asia. Both species are terrestrial and nocturnal, with the African brush-tailed preferring to spend its days burrowed in caves, crevices and fallen trees.

Crested Porcupines

The Old World crested porcupines feature quills along the head, nape and back, and longer, denser quills covering the back half of their bodies in a “crested” shape. Two species make up the group: the North African crested porcupine (Hystrix cristata) and the Indian crested porcupine (Hystrix indica).

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Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.