Researchers Find New Porcupine Species In Brazil
April 11, 2013

New Porcupine Species Discovered In Brazil

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

Brazilian researchers said they have discovered a new species of porcupine that inhabits an isolated patch of Brazil´s Northeastern Atlantic Forest.

According to the team´s report in the journal Zootaxa, they dubbed the spiny rodent Coendou speratus, a reference to its local name "coandu-mirim" and the Latin word "speratus,” meaning “hope."

Because only about two percent of the region´s original forest is still standing, the newly discovered species is already being considered endangered. The team estimates there are approximately four porcupines per 1.5 square miles in the region where the species was discovered. They doubt any more of these animals exist outside this small pocket of forest in Brazil.

If any more of these porcupines do exist, lead researcher Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes told the Associated Press there is little chance of cross-breeding, meaning the species gene pool is fairly small and compromised by inbreeding.

The new species is covered in dark brown spines with reddish tips. It shares its habitat with another, previously-known species of porcupine that roams the forest´s canopy, forcing Coendou speratus to live in the mid-canopy and feed on seeds it finds there. While the animal has little difficulty navigating the forest branches, its lack of jumping ability forces the porcupine to climb down and up another tree if the trees´ branches aren´t connected, according to Pontes.

According to the report, the animal is primarily active at night, preferring to sleep inside hollowed-out tree trunks during the day.

The new porcupine faces many threats from predation from larger animals like jaguars to domesticated dogs, but the rodent´s biggest threat comes from humans. Whether they are hunting the animals for sport or clearing the forest for land use, the local Brazilian population is putting the biggest strain on the newly discovered, yet endangered species.

“People are responsible for logging, clear-cutting and setting fire to the forests and sometimes for hunting the porcupines themselves,” said Pontes, who has been researching the little-known swath of Atlantic Forest north of Brazil´s Sao Francisco River.

Besides being home to Coendou speratus, this region of Brazil is considered to be one of the world's greatest biodiversity hotspots. Scientists have recorded over 260 mammal species, nearly 1,000 birds, about 460 amphibians, over 300 reptiles, and 350 freshwater fish in the local ecosystem.

“We began by researching all the literature that describes the fauna of the region, going all the way back to the first colonizers five centuries ago, and found out that many of the animals they described are extinct,” said Pontes. “One of the incredible things with this discovery is that this species of porcupine is not mentioned at all in the literature and remained unknown to science to date.”

Pontes warned against losing more natural habitat from the region, which is widely considered the most endangered habitat in Brazil.

“Given the rate of destruction in this area, where 98 percent of the original Northeastern Atlantic Forest has already been destroyed, imagine how many species could have gone extinct before we even knew about them,” he said.