sign in a cave in Laos

13 February 2013

Porcupine skull in Merapoh cave

I occasionally see porcupine in caves in Malaysia. The most recent sighting was of 2 porcupine in Gua Tahi Bintang in Merapoh, Pahang. These were the Asiatic Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus macrourus).

On 3 Feb 2013 in Gua Ara Babi in Merapoh, we found the bones of an animal in a small passage. The guys looking at the bones -

Part of the skeleton was already cemented in place but the skull and teeth were loose.

It is a porcupine (Family Hystricidae) but we can't determine the species, although there is a possibility it is the brush tailed as they are in other caves in the area.

In the same passage were some droppings, but I don't know what left them!

More photos of the skull and teeth -

The Asian porcupines have 20 teeth. Their dental formula is =
Incisors 1/1 Canines 0/0, Premolars 1/1 Molars 3/3 (one half of the mouth) .

The incisors

The teeth were already loose. This photo shows one of the incisors pulled out to reveal the whole length -                                

The lower molars (a back one missing) -

close up -

The upper molars  -                                                                                                                        
The back molars missing on both sides

The teeth are quite orange in colour, but this is a trait of porcupines. Despite having powerful gnawing incisors, porcupines are herbivorous, eating fruit, roots, and bulbs, though they may gnaw on bones for calcium. They use caves for shelter.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission


  1. Nice specimen and I think you are right- this seems like Brush-tailed; the cheek teeth are less high than in Common Malayan but not as low as in Long-tailed. There are some good comparative materials in the Zoology Museum, University of Malaya (however, as far as I know its collection doesn't have any Long-tailed). An exact identification can still be made through detail measurements comparison. One useful reference would be van Weers' paper in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (1993; 41-2: 251-261), free on-line. Cheers, Ah Tshen

    1. Thanks. Will check out the reference later.

    2. Interesting article. I wonder if that species has been better studied since 1993.

  2. Sadly, van Weers passed away a few years ago, and to my knowledge no one in Malaysia (at least, in PM) has picked up the study of its ecology or bone/tooth anatomy since his works on Eurasian porcupines. Some Chinese from Mainland China had studied quite extensively on other species of porcupines but these are published mainly in Chinese. Long-tailed had only been recorded in fossil form from China but not in modern fauna. Cheers, Ah Tshen.