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Meet the National Zoo's Newest (and Prickliest) Baby

On October 5, Smithsonian’s National Zoo welcomed its newest (and prickliest) baby: Charlotte, the Prehensile-tailed Porcupine!

23573662281_6acbefd0a8_kPhoto Credit:  Jen Zoon/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Whenever the zoo welcomes a baby animal, keepers work closely with veterinarians and nutrition staff to ensure newborns are healthy. For Charlotte, this meant regular weigh-ins to ensure that she was nursing and gaining weight. Vets gave her a clean bill of health during her first wellness exam, but then she began to lose weight. The animal care team determined that Charlotte was not able to nurse properly and was therefore not receiving enough milk.

The zoo’s nutrition staff created a formula using a mixture of puppy milk replacer, exotic milk replacer,  and egg whites, which resembled the composition of North American Porcupine milk. Once they were able to express milk from Charlotte’s mother, nutrition staff compared it to the formula to ensure Charlotte was getting the nutrition she needed.

To manage Charlotte’s dietary and medical needs, zoo vets surgically inserted an esophagostomy tube and fed her formula every three hours, around the clock, for five days. The feeding tube was removed on November 11 because Charlotte was consistently eating all of her diet by mouth. Today, at 2.8 pounds, Charlotte is healthy and developing normally.

Native to the forests of South America, Prehensile-tailed Porcupines feed on leaves, flowers, and tree bark.  Their prehensile (grasping) tails are not covered in spines and help these animals climb about in trees.  When threatened, these rodents curl into a ball, erecting their spines to appear larger and more intimidating.  They cannot shoot their spines (nor can any Porcupine), but the spines are loosely attached and can become painfully embedded in an attacker.