Hedgehogs are found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and England. Although they are not native to North America, they are common pets in American homes. They help in keeping garden pests away. When in danger or in some vulnerable situation, these interesting creature roll themselves into a ball to keep themselves out of the common sight and thus, staying away from risk.
Crazy, but True!
New Zealand’s McGillicuddy Serious Party once tried to get a hedgehog to stand for the Parliament.
Hedgehogs are small, cute, and quite harmless animals. There are about 14 species of hedgehogs in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Erinaceus europaeus is the binomial name of European hedgehogs.
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia
Order – Erinaceomorpha
Family – Erinaceidae
Subfamily – Erinaceinae
Origin of their Name
Hedgehogs got their name due to their tendency of foraging for food (insects) in hedges and undergrowth, accompanied by the pig-like grunting noise that they make whilst doing the same. They are also known by other names such as urchin and hedgepig.
Hedgehogs are tiny mammals that are between 20 to 30 cm long, and weigh between 600 to 700 grams on an average. They have a pointed muzzle, small or long ears depending on the variety, and four small legs. They have a weak eyesight. They depend more on their sense of smell and hearing. They have spines on their backs. These spines are actually modified hair, which are hollow from the inside and are stiff. They are made from keratin and are 25 mm long.
Unlike the porcupine, the spines of hedgehog are neither barbed nor poisonous. There are 5,000 to 6,000 spines present on the body of a hedgehog at one time, and each of them is replaced every year. When threatened, hedgehogs roll into a tight ball to protect their face, limbs, and belly.
Hedgehogs are basically insectivorous and feed on a variety of invertebrates. They also eat bird eggs, mice, frogs, snails, millipedes, mushrooms, earwigs, and bees. They are known to consume berries, watermelons, and other types of melons as well. They love to eat bananas. Bananas also aid them in digestion.
The female hedgehog is called the sow, and the male hedgehog is called a boar. Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets. After mating, the boar leaves and takes no part in bringing up the young. The female has a gestation period of about 32 days. The litter size is 4 to 6 for bigger species and 3 to 4 for smaller ones.
The hoglets are born blind and without any quills. The quills are present under the skin, and emerge in a few hours. Their vision improves after two weeks. They stay with their mother for 4 to 5 weeks.
These animals are basically nocturnal and come out to eat once it becomes dark. During the day, they sleep in nests made out of piles of leaves, thick grass, or in holes in the ground. They are also mainly solitary creatures. They are seldom seen in pairs, mostly only while mating. Males do not participate in the rearing of the young ones, and females take care of the babies for only 30 to 40 days, after which the babies separate from their mother.
Hedgehogs are found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and England. Although they are not native to North America, they are common pets in American homes. They are quite commonly found in urban areas.
On an average, hedgehogs live between 2 to 7 years depending on the species. Larger species live longer that the smaller ones. They are also prone to some common health problems. Sows can contract ovarian, uterine, and mammary tumors while the boars may contract jaw and testicular cancer. Other than these health issues, as hedgehogs do not have many predators in the wild, they have a longer lifespan.
Usefulness to the Environment
Hedgehogs are known as friends of the gardeners because they eat the pests that are harmful to the gardens, like beetles and caterpillars. If there happens to be a hedgehog in your garden, you can put out some dog or cat food for it along with a bowl of water. It will keep visiting your garden.
Hedgehogs hibernate in winter. They also sleep through long spells of heat in the deserts and dry places, through a process called aestivation, which is also known as ‘summer sleep’. They do best in warm temperatures between 75 to 80°F. They have a normal heartbeat of 190 per minute, which becomes as slow as 20 per minute during hibernation.
They eat as much food as they can during the summer for the winter hibernation. If they are unable to store sufficient fats in their body, they do not make it through the winter and die in their hibernated state.
- Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, the hedgehog who used to iron and starch shirts.
- Sonic the hedgehog, from the cartoon Sonic.
- Russell Ferguson, the hedgehog from the TV series Littlest Pet Shop.
- Mr. Pricklepants, from Toy Story 3.
The first hedgehog to be domesticated was in 4 B.C.
Hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant.
These creatures are not affected by adder venom.
They can run up to six feet per second and are great swimmers.
They can hear ultrasonic sounds.
Hedgehogs squeal when they are happy.
Females are said to be friendlier than males.
A group of hedgehogs is called an array.
As hedgehogs were originally called urchins, sea urchins get their name from them.
Only 1 hedgehog in 12,000 is born with no pigmentation due to a mutation in the gene.
These creatures are now an endangered species because of reasons other than natural predators. As they curl into a ball when scared, many of them become roadkill while crossing streets. They are also accidentally caught in bonfires when they sleep in piles of raked leaves, or when they fall into swimming pools and can’t get out. Although some species are popular as pets, hedgehogs are primarily wild animals. If you happen to find one in your garden, then contact your nearest animal organization for what should be done about it.