Wildlife TV

Learn interesting and funny plant and animal facts with videos and photos

How do Porcupines mate?

on July 7, 2013

One of the most important aspects to life is reproduction; organisms endeavour to reproduce and successfully pass their genes along to the next generation. Different organisms achieve this in different ways, from bacteria to plants to animals, but the principal and purpose is the same; the continuation of life.

Most animal species (but not all) have two sexes, male and female, and each provides a different service for the process of reproduction and we call this mating. In the vast animal kingdom, there are an unfathomable number of different ways in which mating can take place, ranging from violence between males over mating rights to intimate courtship dances between individuals. In this upcoming series we will explore some of the interesting mating strategies that some animals have adopted in order to achieve a very important end: reproduction and the spawning of a new generation.

In this article, we will start by looking at an animal that famously is considered to have difficulties with the all important act.

 Porcupines

A question that people frequently ask is “how do porcupines mate?”. This is a valid question; it seems at first that porcupine anatomy would make the logistics of mating quite difficult.

 Porcupines are a group of large rodents characterised by their impressive array of quills, hair that is modified into tough, sharp spines that provide a spiky defence against predators. The two species of old world porcupine with which we are most familiar in Africa are the Crested and Cape porcupines (Hystrix cristata and Hystrix africaeaustralis) which are notable for their size (the cape porcupine being the largest rodent in Africa) and their striking black and white quills. These quills are raised up when the animal feels threatened and lay down along the length of the body when the animal is relaxed but in general they are pointed towards the rear end.

A picture of an African Crested Porcupine (Hystrix cristata) with its quills raised.

Crested Porcupines (Hystrix cristata) are armed with razor sharp quills that make it pretty difficult for a male to safely mount a female from behind.
Photo Credit.

When mammals mate, for the most part, the preferred technique is for the male to mount the female from behind and ‘get down to business’, however, when a male porcupine approaches a female from behind, he is faced with a formidable array of sharp spikes pointed right at him. So how does he do it? Well, the male still mates with the female from behind but he doesn’t get too close for comfort; he is equipped with a particularly lengthy penis that allows him to copulate from a distance. The male stands upright behind the female, holding onto a quill-free portion of her tail to keep his balance. And that’s that, the deed is done and hopefully the result would be lots of little porcupines; usually between 1 and 3 infants per litter.

Hopefully this magnificent illustration of mine makes it clearer how the mechanics of porcupine mating works. Unfortunately it is very difficult to find a picture of porcupines mating that has the appropriate rights for use; surprising as they mate every day!

An illustration of the postions employed by porcupines during mating.

My illustration of the porcupine mating technique.

The porcupine mating technique is apparently very successful; mated pairs of porcupines will engage in sexual activity on a daily basis, and not necessarily for reproductive purposes. Porcupines are similar to dolphins, bonobos and even humans in that they practice intercourse as a social activity that helps strengthen social bonds between individuals.

So if we ask the question “how do porcupines mate?” the answer is usually “very carefully”, but it seems the truth isn’t too far off, and their careful technique is effective enough that they can use it every day.

I hope you enjoyed learning how porcupines mate.

Do you would also like to learn how blue wildebeest mate?

Check out our “Series” page for the list of “Mating Techniques“.

Much love,

-Nick

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