Hystrix sumatraeSumatran porcupine

Geographic Range

Hystrix sumatrae is found exclusively on Sumatra, one of the islands composing the Indonesian archipelago. (Lyon, 1907; van Weers, 1978)


Sumatran porcupines live in the tropical rainforests that cover the island of Sumatra. They are terrestrial animals and prefer rugged, rocky areas. They make dens in small caves, under fallen trees and stumps, between rocks, and in small burrows. Sumatran porcupines can adapt to a wide variety of habitats. They are at home in forests as well as on cultivated or cleared land. Elevational data for Sumatran porcupines does not exist; however, a closely related species, long-tailed porcupines (found on the neighboring island of Borneo), live at elevations from sea level to 1200 m. (Aplin, et al., 2008; Atkins, 2004; Francis, 2008; Medway, 1969; Payne, et al., 1985; Whitten, 1987)

Physical Description

Sumatran porcupines are relatively small. Measured from the nose to the tip of the hind feet, they range in size from 45 to 56 cm with a mean of 54 cm. Tail length ranges from 2.5 to 19 cm with a mean of 10 cm. They weigh between 3.8 and 5.4 kg. Sumatran porcupines are covered in sharp flattened quills, rattle quills, and stiff bristles. Quills and bristles can be up to 16 cm long and are smaller and more flexible on their cheeks, underside, and feet. Rattle quills are located on the tail and have hollow tips, producing a hiss-like rattle sound when shaken. Rattle quills do not develop until maturity. Sumatran porcupines are dark brown in color, although roughly half of their quills and bristles are white tipped, giving them a distinctly speckled, grey appearance. They often have dirty-white patches on the underside of their neck. Sumatran porcupines do not have a crest, as found in some other members of the genus Hystrix. (Atkins, 2004; Lyon, 1907; Nowak, 1964; van Weers, 1978; van Weers, 1983)

Hystrix sumatrae was originally included in Hystrix crassipinis, a very similar species found on the neighboring island of Borneo. The two were later separated on basis of body size and quill diameter. Hystrix sumatrae is smaller in size and has much thinner quills than H. crassipinis. (Chasen, 1940; Corbet and Hill, 1992; van Weers, 1978)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    3.8 to 4.6 kg
    8.37 to 10.13 lb
  • Average mass
    4.7 kg
    10.35 lb
  • Range length
    45 to 56 cm
    17.72 to 22.05 in


There is no information concerning the mating system of Hystrix sumatrae. In most congeners, males and females form monogamous relationships. (Atkins, 2004; Nowak, 1964; van Aarde, 2001)

In similar species, males court females by showering them with urine. If the female refuses the male, she repsponds aggresively. If the female is receptive, she raises her tail and rear and allows him to mate with her. Both males and females can be vocal during mating, producing a variety of whines, grunts, and squeals. Most members of the genus Hystrix have an estrus cycle of 28 to 36 days and a gestation period of 93 to 110 days. Breeding generally occurs once a year, during late winter or early spring (December through March). For related species of the genus Hystrix litter sizes are small, consisting of one or two precocial young in late summer. Their quills harden within a few hours after birth, and they begin to eat solid food around 9 days old but continue to nurse for up to 19 weeks. Young porcupines reach sexual maturity between 9 months and 2 years of age. (Atkins, 2004; Medway, 1969; Nowak, 1964; van Aarde, 2001)

Within the genus Hystrix, both males and females participate in parental care. Females gestate young, and following birth, lactate for up to 19 weeks. Males aggressively defend young and their burrows. Both parents accompany young while foraging for 6 to 7 months after birth, though males are found with young more often than females. (Nowak, 1964; van Aarde, 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male


There are no records of the lifespan of of Hystrix sumatrae in the wild. There is one report of a single individual in captivity that was alive after 13.3 years. Related species have life spans in the wild ranging from 12 to 20 years, and have been reported to live up to 27 years in captivity (Hystrix brachyura); however, 9 to 15 year life spans are much more common. (Atkins, 2004; Francis, 2008; Medway, 1969; Nowak, 1964; Payne, et al., 1985; Weigl, 2005; van Aarde, 2001)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13.3 (high) years


Sumatran porcupines are primarily nocturnal animals. They are terrestrial and are poor climbers but are reported to be adept swimmers. Most crested porcupines are moderately vocal, producing grunts and calls as they move around at night. They are plantigrade and typically shuffle clumsily, but are able to run at moderate speeds when pursued by predators. (Atkins, 2004; Francis, 2008; Medway, 1969; Nowak, 1964; Payne, et al., 1985; van Aarde, 2001)

Sumatran porcupines live in dens under fallen trees, rocks, crevasses, or in burrows. After digging their dens, they line them with plant material. Typically, a mating pair and their immature offspring cohabitate for a single breeding season. Although not reported for H. sumatrae, related porcupines defecate regularly in a particular, fixed spot in their shelter. (Atkins, 2004; Francis, 2008; Medway, 1969; Payne, et al., 1985; van Aarde, 2001)

Home Range

There is no information concerning home range in Hystrix sumatrae, but spatial use for similar species haves been described. Research indicates as few as 1 to as many as 29 Hystrix per square km. Individuals have been reported to travel up to 16 km per night to forage. Most crested porcupines move along well defined tracks and trails. (Atkins, 2004; Francis, 2008; Medway, 1969; Nowak, 1964; Payne, et al., 1985; van Aarde, 2001)

Communication and Perception

Sumatran porcupines use anal scent glands to mark their territories. Males frequently mark high quality feeding patches. It is easy to tell when Sumatran porcupines are alarmed because of their display. They stamp their feet, erect and rattle their quills, and raise their rears. If approached, they run backwards or sideways toward the threat, attempting to impale it with their quills. They may also stamp their feet, grunt, and whine to communicate with enemies of the same or different species, as well as in courtship and mating. In other species of the genus Hystrix potential mates engage in a "dance" on their hind legs while humming and grunting together. They may put their paws on each others' shoulders and rub noses. In many genera of Old World porcupines, males urinate on females during courtship. (Atkins, 2004; Medway, 1969; Nowak, 1964; Payne, et al., 1985; van Aarde, 2001)

Food Habits

Sumatran porcupines are herbivorous, feeding on a variety of plant material including bark, roots, tubers, fruits, and bulbs. They also like cultivated crops, such as sweet potatoes, bananas, peanuts, maize, sugar cane, beans, melons and mango. Feeding on carrion (animal remains) has been reported for other members of the genus Hystrix, but is not common. Sumatran porcupines forage at night, typically alone, but occasionally accompanied by one or two offspring. An individual may travel many kilometers a night looking for food, usually along well developed tracks and trails. (Atkins, 2004; Nowak, 1964; van Aarde, 2001)

Many porcupines also forage for bones. They carry them back to their den and gnaw on them, partially in an effort to wear down and sharpen their teeth, but also to obtain minerals like calcium and phosphate that may be lacking in their diets. Piles of gnawed bones often litter the entrances to dens. (Atkins, 2004; Nowak, 1964; van Aarde, 2001)

  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


There are no major predators reported for Sumatran porcupines. This could be in part due to their ability to defend themselves, as their quills provide excellent protection. While quills cannot be launched, they are detachable and easily penetrate and stick into skin. They are not poisonous, but may cause infections that can prove fatal. (Atkins, 2004; Francis, 2008; Medway, 1969; Payne, et al., 1985; van Aarde, 2001)

Ecosystem Roles

Sumatran porcupines are hunted for their meat by humans and may be preyed upon by other animals. They are herbivores and might also serve an ecological role as seed dispersers by eating and defecating plant material. Burrows likely increase soil aeration and water penetration to the surrounding environment. They are also host to a number of ectoparasites, including fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, and are known to carry and transmit bubonic plague and malaria. (Aplin, et al., 2008; Atkins, 2004; Nowak, 1964; van Aarde, 2001)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • fleas (<< Siphonaptera>>)
  • ticks (Ixodoidea)
  • mosquitoes (Culicidae)
  • bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis)
  • malaria (Plasmodium)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

On the island of Sumatra, Hystrix sumatrae is hunted for meat and recreation. Its quills are used for ornamentation and talismans. Porcupines may also be valuable seed dispersers. (Aplin, et al., 2008; Atkins, 2004; van Aarde, 2001)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Sumatran porcupines are major agricultural pests throughout their range. They not only eat the plant material itself, but they also damage trees by gnawing on branches, trunks, and bark to wear down their ever-growing teeth. They can also transmit human diseases, especially those associated with fleas and ticks. Members of the genus Hystrix have been known to carry and transmit the bubonic plague and malaria. (Aplin, et al., 2008; Atkins, 2004; Nowak, 1964; van Aarde, 2001)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Sumatran porcupines are listed as a species of "least concern" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Their low priority status is due to their wide distribution over throughout Sumatra, their adaptability, and their broad range of habitats and foods. They are also found within protected areas on the island of Sumatra. (Aplin, et al., 2008)

Other Comments

Hystrix sumatrae was first described under the name Thecurus sumatrae by Lyon in 1907. Later it was added to the genus Hystrix (Linneaus 1758). Today information exists on the species under both Thecurus sumatrae and Hystrix sumatrae. It was also suggested to be the same species as H. crassipinis, but now the two are thought to be distinct. (Chasen, 1940; Corbet and Hill, 1992; Lyon, 1907; van Weers, 1978; van Weers, 1983)


Annie Farner (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Aplin, K., A. Frost, G. Amori, D. Lunde. 2008. "Hystrix sumatrae" (On-line). IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/10754/0.

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Chasen, F. 1940. A handlist of Malaysian mammals; a systematic list of the mammals of the Malay peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo and Java, including the adjacent small islands. Bulletin of the Raffles Museum (Singapore), 15: 44444.

Corbet, G., J. Hill. 1992. The mammals of the Indomalayan region: a systematic review. London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Francis, C. 2008. A Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia. London, Cape Town: New Holland Publishers.

Lyon, M. 1907. Notes on the porcupines of the Malay peninsula and the Archipelago. Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 32: 575-594.

Medway, L. 1969. The Wild Mammals of Malaya and Offshore Islands Including Singapore. London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Nowak, R. 1964. Old World porcupines. Pp. 1644-1689 in Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 2, 6th Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Payne, J., C. Francis, K. Phillips. 1985. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia: Sabah Society.

Weigl, R. 2005. Longevity of Mammals in Captivity; from the Living Collections of the World. Stuttgart, Germany: Kleine Senckenberg.

Whitten, A. 1987. The Ecology of Sumatra. Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Gadjah Mada University Press.

van Aarde, R. 2001. Old world porcupines. Pp. 686-687 in D Macdonald, S Norris, eds. The New Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 1, 1st Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

van Weers, D. 1978. Notes on southeast Asian porcupines (Hystricidae, Rodentia) IV. On the taxonomy of the subgenus Thecurus Lyon.. Beaufortia, 28: 17-33.

van Weers, D. 1983. Specific distinction in Old World porcupines. Zoologische Garten, 53: 226-232.