Prehensile-tailed Porcupine

Coendou prehensilis

Order: Rodentia

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Provide ample space for climbing with lots of climbing structures/perching. Although the animal seems to be inactive and sleeping during the day and may lead to the assumption that they are not active, they are more active at night so provide an enclosure and enrichment to satisfy a higher level of activity at night.
  • Nest boxes, only issue may be getting them out of it when needed.

Diet Requirements

  • Philadelphia Zoo: Zupreem Primate, sweet potatoes, carrots, peanut butter, salt and papaya (to possibly help prevent gastroliths).
  • Pittsburgh: carrots, apple, lettuce, sweet potatoes, bananas and rodent pro.
  • In the wild, this species eats leaves, stems, fruits, and flowers. They have also been known to raid guava, bananas, and corn from plantations.
  • Greensboro Science Center Diet
    • Fed twice a day
    • 25g Mazuri Rodent Block
    • 35g fruit
    • 55g Veggie
    • 25g Greens

Veterinary Concerns

  • Pittsburgh Zoo: We have had discussions regarding the feeding of primate diets and concerns of too high of a nutrient level. We also have had issues with excess tooth wear with age. Our current female receives soaked rodent pro to alleviate the over wear of molars.
  • Philadelphia Zoo: Several prehensile tailed porcupines have developed gastroliths of impressive size that required surgical removal. Papaya was added to the diet to try to prevent formation of gastroliths.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • This species responds well to positive reinforcement methods. Suggested behaviors include target, station, crate, up (stand on hind legs), reach (reach with forelimb), hold (extend time on target). Preferred reinforcers are peanuts, almonds, occasionally fruit pieces.
  • At Philadelphia Zoo, we had luck using coconut as a reinforcer for increasing motivation. Maintaining consistent motivation has been a challenge though without some level of diet management.
  • Raisin bran muffins are a great reinforcer


Colony or Breeding Management


Individual Identification


Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

  • You can build a table top perch for presenting prehensile tailed porcupines. Then the porcupine can be trained to uncrate and climb up the perch for display. The animal is more comfortable and does not need to be picked up.

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Protective glove recommendation: ACES Talon gloves, cowhide with Kevlar lining.


Potential Messaging

  • Shade-grown coffee: The original coffee plants that were cultivated could not withstand much sunlight and were therefore grown beneath the canopy of the forest. Due to the popularity of coffee, most strains of coffee plants have been cultivated over time to withstand full sunlight. This has created large-scale deforestation for coffee plantations. Please ask guests to choose organic shade-grown coffee in which the plants are grown beneath the forest canopy, preserving arboreal habitat for tamarins, marmosets, sakis, binturongs, and birds while the forest floor is being used for human purposes. Look for coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified or marked “Organic Shade-Grown”.
  • Paper – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:One of the best ways for people to help the rainforest is to reduce their use of paper. Many rainforest trees are felled each year for paper that ends up in countries all over the world. Much of the tropical paper pulp products that end up in the United States come from South America, particularly the Amazon Rainforest. Please ask guests to go paperless in the office whenever possible, to print on both sides, to recycle any paper or cardboard they do use, and to purchase products made from recycled paper. At home, they can substitute re-usable cloth towels for disposable paper towels and cleaning wipes and purchase toilet paper made from recycled material rather than super-plush toilet paper which is made from old-growth forests.

Acquisition Information

  • The North American prehensile-tailed porcupine population is currently managed as a Yellow SSP under the Rodent, Insectivore, and Lagomorph (RIL) TAG. Please contact Lindsay Sears, the SSP Coordinator, at for availability details.


Comments from the Rating System

  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Very stinky, but great on program.
  • National Zoo: Handling conditions specific to individual animals
  • Philadelphia Zoo: Slower to train and harder to motivate than other porcupine species, but will do the basics pretty well (crating, targeting)
  • Toledo Zoo: Trained to crate itself and walk around on a table; the only reason we did not let beginner handlers work that animal was to prove reliability.
  • Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: Very smart and easy to train, but do require experienced handlers

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

South Panama, Andes from northwest Columbia to north Argentina and northwest Brazil. Prehensile-tailed porcupines live in forested areas, low-lying jungles.

Physical Description

The coloration of upper body part varies form light yellow to almost black; the under-body is generally gray. The long tail lacks quills and is modified for use as a prehensile appendage. The tail contributes 9% of the total body weight. Hands and feet are specialized for climbing in cooperation with their tail. Average length, from head to tail, is 35 to 40 inches. Average weight is 9 to 12 pounds.

Life Cycle

There is no breeding season for this species. Females mate again right after the last young is born. After a 203 day gestation period, a single young is born. Infants are covered with short spines that are flexible at birth and harden soon afterwards. Porcupine young are born with their eyes open and are able to walk. They can climb trees at only a few days old.
In the wild, prehensile-tailed porcupines can live 6 to 8 years. In captivity, they can live up to 20 years.


Prehensile-tailed porcupines are almost strictly arboreal. They rarely descend to the ground; when they do, it is only to feed or move to another tree. They are very near-sighted, but have keen senses of touch, hearing, and smell. Nocturnal and shy, they tend to live in small groups or in pairs.

Threats and Conservation Status

Prehensile-tailed porcupines are not currently endangered, although habitat destruction affects them adversely. They are preyed upon by large mammals, including humans: they are used as food in many parts of South America.

Did you know…

  • The quills of an adult can reach up to 3 inches long. Quills are stiff, hollow hairs. They are barbed and are very difficult to remove once they have penetrated skin.
  • Porcupines make several strange sounds, which includes hissing, shrieking, barking, growling, snorting, and wailing.
  • If caught in the wild, these porcupines will roll into a ball.
  • The name “porcupine” comes from Middle French porc d’espine “thorny pig.”


Zoey enjoys a walk on the grass – watch out for lost quills! – HHPZ
Rianna during amphitheater presentation.



Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, San Jose
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
  • Greensboro Science Center

Top Photo: By Wikinoobie1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons