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The taxonomic status of the endangered thin-spined porcupine, Chaetomys subspinosus (Olfers, 1818), based on molecular and karyologic data

Roberto V Vilela1*, Taís Machado12, Karen Ventura1, Valéria Fagundes3, Maria José de J Silva2 and Yatiyo Yonenaga-Yassuda1

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Genética e Biologia Evolutiva, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, Rua do Matão, 277, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

2 Laboratório Especial de Ecologia e Evolução, Instituto Butantan Avenida Dr Vital Brazil, 1500, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

3 Departamento de Ciências Biológicas, Centro de Ciências Humanas e Naturais, Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Avenida Marechal Campos, 1468, Maruípe, Vitória, ES, Brazil

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-29

Published: 3 February 2009



The thin-spined porcupine, also known as the bristle-spined rat, Chaetomys subspinosus (Olfers, 1818), the only member of its genus, figures among Brazilian endangered species. In addition to being threatened, it is poorly known, and even its taxonomic status at the family level has long been controversial. The genus Chaetomys was originally regarded as a porcupine in the family Erethizontidae, but some authors classified it as a spiny-rat in the family Echimyidae. Although the dispute seems to be settled in favor of the erethizontid advocates, further discussion of its affinities should be based on a phylogenetic framework. In the present study, we used nucleotide-sequence data from the complete mitochondrial cytochrome b gene and karyotypic information to address this issue. Our molecular analyses included one individual of Chaetomys subspinosus from the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil, and other hystricognaths.


All topologies recovered in our molecular phylogenetic analyses strongly supported Chaetomys subspinosus as a sister clade of the erethizontids. Cytogenetically, Chaetomys subspinosus showed 2n = 52 and FN = 76. Although the sexual pair could not be identified, we assumed that the X chromosome is biarmed. The karyotype included 13 large to medium metacentric and submetacentric chromosome pairs, one small subtelocentric pair, and 12 small acrocentric pairs. The subtelocentric pair 14 had a terminal secondary constriction in the short arm, corresponding to the nucleolar organizer region (Ag-NOR), similar to the erethizontid Sphiggurus villosus, 2n = 42 and FN = 76, and different from the echimyids, in which the secondary constriction is interstitial.


Both molecular phylogenies and karyotypical evidence indicated that Chaetomys is closely related to the Erethizontidae rather than to the Echimyidae, although in a basal position relative to the rest of the Erethizontidae. The high levels of molecular and morphological divergence suggest that Chaetomys belongs to an early radiation of the Erethizontidae that may have occurred in the Early Miocene, and should be assigned to its own subfamily, the Chaetomyinae.