Brookfield, Ill. – On March 19, the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, welcomed a new addition—a porcupette (baby porcupine) who was born on March 19. The newborn is being handreared by animal care staff after it was observed the porcupette’s mom, 9-year-old Lucia, was not providing her offspring proper maternal care.
The unsexed baby porcupine is thriving and being cared for around the clock by the animal care specialists. Currently, the porcupette is fed a formula, which was developed by CZS’s director of nutrition. As the baby develops, times between each feeding will increase until it is weaned at around 10 weeks old. Once weaned, staff will begin introducing the young porcupine to a diet consisting of a variety of vegetables, including sweet potato, green beans, corn, carrots, spinach, and kale, as well as a nutrient-based biscuit, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.
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At birth, a porcupette weighs just under a pound and is born with soft and bendable quills that protect the mom during the birthing process. After a few days, the quills harden with keratin—the same substance found in hair and fingernails—giving them their sharpness. Prehensile-tailed porcupines are born with a rusty-colored coat that helps them blend in with their environment. Similar to a deer fawn, a porcupette hides and waits for its mother to come to it for nursing.
Prehensile-tailed porcupines are found throughout much of South America, including in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, French Guiana, Trinidad, and northern Argentina, and live in high-elevation rain forests. Thought to be similar to North American porcupines, prehensile-tailed porcupines tend to have individual territories—females have exclusive ones, but males often have territories that overlap and may vary widely in size.
Their long tail is used to wrap around branches while climbing. Regardless of what some might think, porcupines do not shoot their quills, which are just modified hairs. Porcupines have muscles at the base of each quill that allow the quills to stand up when the animal is excited or alarmed. Like all hairs, quills do shed, and when a porcupine shakes, loose quills come out.
Both Lucia and the porcupette’s dad, 8-year-old Eddie, are members of Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Ambassador Program and can be seen in Hamill Family Play Zoo. Once the young porcupine is weaned from the bottle, he will also be a part of this program, which offers guests the opportunity to have up-close experiences with many of the animals.
Photo credit: Jim Schulz/CZS-Brookfield Zoo