Indian crested porcupine builds burrow occupied by 22 different species

It’s not easy living with someone really different than you but it’s even worse when its your house and roommates keep coming in without invitation. 

The Indian crested porcupine in India being studied by researchers from the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History in Coimbatore was found to have 22 different species living in his burrow.

Porcupines, the animal kingdom’s engineers, can dig burrows that are up to 13 metres in length and add-ons with a number of extra chambers at different depths. The researchers used camera traps to understand the complex co-habitation.

At the study site of Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, Rajasthan (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the temperatures can vary from 0.5 degrees Celsius to as high as 50 degree Celsius. So, burrows play an important role in giving refuge and protection against the weather and predators.

The researchers set up cameras around porcupine burrows and made note of the visitors.

From October 2014 to December 2016, they tracked about 20 active burrows and studied the different occupants. The four major occupants were porcupines, jackals, rock pythons and bats. Some birds such as peafowl, robins and babblers also visited the burrows to feed on the insects that live there.

The team also noted the different interactions between the visitors. While in most cases, the animals ignored each other and co-occupied, some were aggressive.

Porcupines, pythons and bats co-occupy in peace whereas jackals are fierce.

The paper published recently in Ethology Ecology and Evolution described an interaction between a python and few jackals which lasted more than 30 minutes, The jackals growled while the python hissed and puffed its body. The python finally fled from the burrow site which was already occupied by jackals and pups. The camera also recorded a fierce fight where four jackals attacked a python, eventually killing and evicting it from the burrow.

Most of the animals used the burrows temporarily only.

“During the winter days, the pythons bask in the Sun, and as the temperature drops, they crawl into the burrow at night. When we inserted a burrow video camera, we saw up to five pythons inside. Also in camera traps and during field surveys, 9 to 15 of them [pythons] were recorded basking and congregating in the same burrow,” explains Dr. H.N. Kumara from the Conservation Biology Department of the Centre and the corresponding author of the work.

A paper published by the team in 2017 was able to point out the specific burrow characters each animal preferred. Jackals liked larger chambered burrows, while the pythons chose smaller compact ones and bats preferred the burrows with few branching and openings.

There will be an impact on other species if porcupine numbers decline.

Avadhoot D.V, a PhD scholar at the Centre and one of the authors of the paper said the effect wouldn’t be immediately.

But of course, there will be a domino effect. The study has clearly shown that porcupines are a keystone species in the semi-arid region.”

The Indian crested porcupine is accorded a status of ‘Least Concern’ under IUCN Red List. In India, it is under Schedule IV of Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972 which provides it protection but with lower penalties. In many area,s they are considered a pest and are also hunted illegally for their meat.

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