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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2021



Malayan Porcupine

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3

Fig 4

Fig 5

Fig 6

Fig 7

Fig 8


Family : Hystricidae
Species : Hystrix brachyura

Head-Body Length : Up to 72 cm
Tail Length : Up to 11 cm

The Malayan Porcupine, or East Asian Porcupine, is one of the largest of Southeast Asia's seven species of porcupine. It occurs in a wide range of habitats including primary and secondary forest, cultivated areas and plantations. The species appears to be almost exclusively nocturnal.

It has a varied diet of fallen fruit, roots, tubers and bark, and may sometimes scavenge for food scraps at the edge of villages. They have large incisors and powerful jaws used for crushing seeds and nuts. They are also known to gnaw on bones, and to take bones back to their burrows.

They inhabit large burrows which are excavated in suitable soils with their powerful front feet and long claws. These burrows can form extensive warrens, and may be used for many generations.

Family bonds appear strong : it is common to see groups of 3 or 4 individuals foraging together at night. Up to 10 individuals may live in a social colony.

The front half of the body is dark brown to near black. The rear half is equipped with long, sharp quills which are banded black and white, or dark brown and white. Typically the longer quills are predominantly white, with a dark band in the middle. Long, thick hairs on the nape may be erected into a crest. The tail is relatively short, with thick, hollow quills which can be rattled when the animal feels threatened.

The species is probably only predated by large cats, such as Leopards, however it must be a hungry predator that attempts to kill a Malayan Porcupine : when threatened these animals will charge backwards into their attacker, spines raised.

Some authorities divide Hystrix brachyura into two species, with those north of the Isthmus of Kra (i.e. the narrowest part of southern Thailand) being referred to as H. hodgsoni.

The Malayan Porcupine occurs in parts of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and southern China. Within Southeast Asia it is widespread on the mainland, occurring in Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. It also occurs on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Fig 1 : Example from forest edge habitat.

Fig 2 : A pair of Malayan Porcupine navigating the forest at night near a rocky stream gully.

Fig 3 : Rear view with quills raised.

Fig 4 : Consuming a food scrap found amongst the leaf litter of young secondary forest.

Fig 5 : The thick head and bulbous snout of this specimen suggests it may be an adult male. Note the long hairs on the forehead and nape which suggest a well-developed crest in this individual.

Fig 6 : This specimen is perhaps a juvenile, based on its slimmer body form and less robust head.

Note : Figs 4 to 6 are of a population found in Singapore which appear to be more brown in colour than is usual for the species. Lekagul (1977) states that colour can vary in individual porcupines.

Fig 7 : Carrying what appears to be a seed pod of the rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis. Porcupines play a role as seed dispersers.

Fig 8 : Close-up of the hind feet, which have 5 toes.

References : M2, M3, M5