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Welcome back to Bizarre Beasts: Season Zero, where we are remastering episodes of Bizarre Beasts that were originally created for Vlogbrothers. This episode, Prehensile-tailed porcupines! Meet Kemosabe, the critter that helped inspire this entire Bizarre Beasts journey.
Check out Animal Wonders here:

Get the Season Zero pin set here:
The Prehensile-tailed Porcupine pin was designed by Sam Schultz. You can find out more about them and their work here:

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#BizarreBeasts #porcupine
Good morning, John.

Welcome back to Bizarre

Beasts: Season Zero. Hank and I are trading off hosting duties on  our year-long journey to remaster the original   Bizarre Beasts episodes from Vlogbrothers  with corrections, updates, and new facts. Make sure you stick around to the end of the video  for the pin set announcement and some bonus facts! It's time for another Bizarre Beasts!

This time I get to talk about a weird animal who I know personally! [♪INTRO♪] In a way, this is the animal who inspired this  idea, because back many years ago on SciShow,   he came to visit me, and I - one,  I looked very - I looked younger. That SciShow talk show is from  2013 and the Vlogbrothers video   is from 2019 and now it is somehow it's 2024. Time is weird.

And two, I freaked out because, like, if a  spaceship landed in my backyard, and this thing came   out, that would seem perfectly normal, aside  from there being a spaceship in my backyard. He is a prehensile-tailed porcupine,  of which there are many species. This is a Brazilian porcupine in particular.

I have not ever seen anything like that. And even more specifically,  this individual is Kemosabe,   who lives with my friends Jessi and Augusto  here in Montana at Animal Wonders, which is a   permanent home and safe haven for exotic animals  and native animals that can't return to the wild. Unfortunately, Kemo is no longer with us,  but he does get to live on through this   channel and through all the videos he was  in on the Animal Wonders YouTube channel.

Now, Kemo is a bit of an internet celebrity,  partially because of how he looks. There's just that giant tail and there's all the spines  and that very good, weird marshmallow nose. But also because of how he sounds.

Now, there are cuter animals in the world, but I  don't know if there are cuter-sounding animals. Let's take a minute, just give it a listen. [COOING SOUNDS FROM KEMOSABE] It's a little bit reminiscent  of, like, a baby cooing. But they also just, like, sound kind of human,   like this is a noise that  would be easy for me to make. [IMITATES KEMOSABE COOING SOUNDS] And hearing like this human sound come out  of this very not human-looking organism is,   you know, a little bit  exhilarating, it's very cute.

It's also a little unsettling. And those emotions don't often  come together at the same time. Now for a weird thing about porcupines.

That word includes a number of different species. They include the ones that we  have here in the U. S. and also   down in Central and South America,  like prehensile-tailed porcupines.

And then there are the European  and African and Asian porcupines,   the Old World porcupines, and  they are totally not related! I mean they are, they're both rodents,  but their quills evolved separately. They evolved from a common  ancestor that didn't have quills.

I wanted to pause and clarify this a little bit,  because I can see how it could be confusing. To say that porcupines from Europe, Africa,  and Asia evolved their quills separately from   the porcupines of the Americas, we have  to talk about a thing called parsimony. When evolutionary biologists build family  trees, they’re basically trying to come up   with the tree that requires the fewest  steps to explain the traits we observe.

So, in this case, we can build a family tree of  rodents that includes both groups of porcupines,   and look at who they’re most closely related  to and whether they have quills or not. It turns out that the porcupines of the Americas  are more closely related to a bunch of other South   American rodents that don’t have spines than they  are to the porcupines in Europe, Asia, and Africa. And that means it’s more parsimonious  to assume that each of the two groups of   porcupines evolved their quills independently  from ancestors that didn’t have quills,   versus more than two groups of other South  American rodents losing their quills.

They're only both called porcupines  because they're both spine pigs. Like pig, pork. Spine, pine.

Pork-pine. That's really where their name comes from. They're thorn pigs!

But because their quills evolved separately,  they actually function completely differently! Okay, this is only kind-of true. Both groups of porcupines have  quills to defend against predators,   but the anatomy of their  quills is a little different.

The porcupines of the Americas  have single quills mixed in with   other kinds of hair and fur, and those  quills have microscopic barbs on them. The porcupines of Europe, Africa, and Asia,   on the other hand, have clusters  of smooth quills with no barbs. And it isn't the only time this has happened.

Hedgehogs and echidna also have spines that  evolved completely separately because, like,   it's just not a terrible idea  to be really unpleasant to bite. And here’s a bonus fact about how  being unpleasant to bite might evolve: One study from 2016 looked at a bunch of  different mammal defensive mechanisms,   including spines, quills, bony  plates, and stinky sprays,   to try to figure out what ecological  traits might drive their evolution. And they found that insect-eating mammals  between about 800 grams and 9 kilograms that   lived in open habitats like grasslands or deserts  were more likely to have one of these defenses.

But the Brazilian porcupine lives in  a closed habitat: tropical forests. So the researchers think that they kept their  quills because of the threat of harpy eagles,   who hunt in forests, which would be a  strong selective pressure on the porcupines. Prehensile-tailed porcupines live in trees.

That's why they have their prehensile  tails, and they are very good climbers. Indeed, when a porcupette is born (and yes, that is the proper  word for a baby porcupine) they are soft and fuzzy and can't very well be  carried around by their big, thorny mamas, so they   have the same muscular tails and functioning claws  as their mamas, and they can climb from day one! If you missed this critter the first time  around, our Season Zero pin set is now available!

This set includes all 12 of the animals  we began this Bizarre Beasts journey   with on Vlogbrothers, including  the prehensile-tailed porcupine! To get the Season Zero Pin set,  visit! Okay, final bonus fact time.

Earlier I explained how we know that  porcupines from Africa and Asia aren’t   that closely related to the porcupines of  the Americas, but why there are rodents,   including porcupines, in South  America is also a wild story. Now, you might know that the team that works  on this show also works on another channel,   PBS Eons, all about the history of life on Earth. And that means we love cramming a little  paleontology into this show when we can.

And, in this case, that means I get to tell you  that the ancestors of the group of rodents known   as caviomorphs probably got to South America  by floating over from Africa on masses of   plant debris that acted like rafts sometime  between about 45 and 30 million years ago. If you want to know more, you  can check out the Eons episode:   When Rodents Rafted Across the Ocean. [♪OUTRO♪]