ONE LIFE: Hedgehog Day

02 February 2021

One Life

Where do hedgehogs live? 

Hedgehogs have been around for some 15 million years. There are 17 different species that live across Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. They were also introduced to New Zealand from England, but they are now thought to be a risk to the native wildlife. 

Hedgehogs need a dry home, they like dry shelters on well-drained soils. They also need lots of ground-dwelling insects and invertebrates to feed on. 

Spiky creatures

There are approximately 6,000 quills on a hedgehog. This helps to protect them from predators, especially when they curl themselves up into a ball, concealing their soft bellies. When they do this, their spikes stick out in all directions. 

Hedgehog quills are very hard and sharp, in fact they are harder and sharper than those on a porcupine and they cover their back and sides, giving them all round protection. 

Young hedgehogs shed their baby quills, and they are then replaced by adult ones. As adults, hedgehogs will lose quills when they are stressed or ill.

You can’t eat me!

Hedgehogs have a highly developed circular muscle that runs along the side of their body, and across their rump and neck. This muscle contracts and forms a bag into which the hedgehog tucks their body, head, and legs into. 

Whenever they are scared or disturbed, hedgehogs will curl up, and only the strongest predators can pry them open. Hedgehogs will also sleep in this position so that they are protected when they rest. 

Hungry creatures

Hedgehogs love to eat insects, earthworms, snails and slugs, but they need to eat a lot of them. They start foraging at dusk, and they will eat one-third of their body weight in one night. They will also eat eggs, small mammals, birds, frogs, reptiles, fruit, fungi, and roots. They can even eat small poisonous snakes and scorpions, as they have some resistance to their poison.

Strange habits

Hedgehogs have some peculiar habits, which scientists cannot explain. They will chew on an object and produce a foamy saliva. They will then rub this saliva all over their body. This self-anointing behaviour is a bit of a mystery to hedgehog experts. 

Some possible reasons for this behaviour include it being a possible self-defence mechanism. Hedgehogs tend to do this when they encounter new smells. Experts suggest that they may rub themselves in the smell to hide themselves from predators. 

Another suggestion is that the hedgehogs are putting a toxic mixture onto their back. Hedgehogs have some resistance to eating poisons in their food, and after eating a poisonous animal like a toad, hedgehogs will have some of the poison in their saliva. Rubbing their saliva over their backs will therefore serve to protect them from a hungry predator.

Hedgehogs really are amazing animals!

Hedgehog conservation:

The main threat to hedgehogs is a loss of habitat and food. In Europe, hedgehogs are losing a lot of their habitats to humans, and homeowners are killing off their main food supply.

The UK has seen the hedgehog population halve since 2000. The reasons for this include a loss of habitat due to large-scale farming, as farmers remove hedges and trees which the hedgehogs rely on for shelter. The increase in pesticide use, both in agriculture and in gardens is also a major threat, as it has decimated the hedgehogs’ food source.  

A rise in the use of slug pesticides has led to hedgehogs being poisoned, either by eating the pellets themselves, or by eating the poisoned slugs. The use of such chemicals also means that there are fewer slugs for the hedgehogs to feed off too.  

Road construction and increases in walls and fences also cause problems for hedgehogs, as they limit their ability to migrate, and to find mates. 

Hedgehog welfare:

In recent years hedgehogs have found themselves on the top of the list of exotic pet species. These wild animals are increasingly becoming popular pets around the world. 

Unfortunately, the hedgehogs are suffering as a result, as they are not domesticated animals, and they belong in the wild.

Hedgehogs do not make good pets

The African pygmy hedgehog is the species of choice when it comes to the pet trade. These animals are solitary, nocturnal animals however, and are grossly unsuited to sharing their lives with us humans. 

Hedgehogs have complex needs that can only truly be met by the wild environment they have evolved to live in. 

In the wild, the African pygmy hedgehog lives in the steppes, savanna and grassy areas of West, Central, and East Africa. It is therefore very difficult for the average pet owner to provide a comparable environment for a hedgehog. 

Hedgehogs roam large distances in the wild, and so they need lots of space in captivity. Keeping them in a small rodent cage is cruel, and will cause considerable stress and suffering.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, and so they should be left alone during the day. This is of course when most people want to interact with their pets. This also means that they will be active at night, and they will likely disturb their owners! 

Hedgehogs are amazing animals, but they belong in the wild.  

READ MORE: One Life: Bats | One Life: Turkeys | One Life: Orangutans