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- This article is about the spiny mammal. For other uses, see hedgehog (disambiguation).
A hedgehog is any of the small spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae and the order Insectivora. There are 15 species of hedgehog in four genera, found through parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. There are no hedgehogs native to the Americas or Australia. Hedgehogs have changed little over the last 15 million years. Like many of the first mammals they have adapted to a nocturnal, insectivorous way of life. The name 'hedgehog' came into use around the year 1450, derived from the middle English word 'heyghoge'. Other folk names include 'urchin', 'hedgepig' and 'furze-pig'.
Hedgehogs are easily distinguished by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Their spines are not poisonous or barbed and, unlike the quills of a porcupine, cannot easily be removed from the animal. However, spines normally come out when a hedgehog sheds baby spines and replaces them with adult spines around the first year. When under extreme stress or during sickness, a hedgehog will lose spines.
Hedgehogs are most closely related to gymnures and other insectivores, including moles, shrews, tenrecs, the extinct deinogalerix and solenodons.
A defense that all species of hedgehogs possess is the ability to roll into a tight ball, causing all of the spines to point outwards. However, its effectiveness depends on the number of spines, and since some of the desert hedgehogs evolved to carry less weight, they are much more likely to try to run away and sometimes even attack the intruder, trying to ram into the intruder with its spines, leaving rolling as a last resort. This results in a different number of predators for different species: while forest hedgehogs have relatively few, primarily birds (especially owls) and ferrets, smaller species like long-eared hedgehogs are preyed on by foxes, wolves and mongooses.
All hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, although different species can be more or less likely to come out in the daytime. The hedgehog sleeps for a large portion of the daytime either under cover of bush or grass or rock or in a hole in the ground. Again, different species can have slightly different habits, but in general hedgehogs dig out dens for shelter. All wild hedgehogs can hibernate, although not all do; hibernation depends on temperature, abundance of food and species. Hedgehogs are fairly vocal, and communicate not only in a series of grunts and snuffles, but sometimes in loud squeals (depending on species).
Hedgehogs occasionally perform a ritual called 'anointing'. When the animal comes across a new scent, it will lick and bite the source and then form a scented froth in its mouth and paste it on its spines with its tongue. It is not known what the specific purpose of this ritual is, but some experts believe anointing camouflages the hedgehog with the new scent of the area and provides a possible poison or source of infection to any predator that gets poked by their spines.
Hedgehogs perform well with other pets, including cats and dogs. They are occasionally threatened by these animals, though, but for those rare instances, the hedgehogs just rolls into a ball until the threat is gone.
Although belonging to insectivore family, hedgehogs are almost omnivorous. Hedgehogs feed on insects, snails, frogs and toads, snakes, bird eggs, carrion, mushrooms, grass roots, berries, melons, and watermelons. In fact, berries constitute a major part of an Afghan Hedgehog's diet in early spring after hibernation. The hedgehog is occasionally spotted after a rainstorm foraging for earthworms. Although forest hedgehogs, most well-known to Europeans, are indeed mainly insectivores, this is not necessarily true for other species.
In areas that have hedgehogs in the wild, they are often welcomed as a natural form of garden pest control. Many people leave food out to attract hedgehogs. Although hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant, they will eagerly consume cheese, milk, and dairy products, causing illness. The common pet hedgehog (African Pigmey Hedgehog) can however have a small portion of cottage cheese as a dietary supplement. Dog and cat food are better than dairy, but both are often too high in fat and too low in protein. It is best to leave out only a small treat, leaving them plenty of appetite for the pests in your garden.
Reproduction and lifespan
Depending on the species, the gestation period is 40-58 days. The average litter is 3-4 newborns for larger species and 5-6 for smaller ones. As with many animals, it is not unusual for an adult male hedgehog to kill newborn males.
The hedgehog's dilemma is based the apparent danger of a male hedgehog being poked while mating with a female hedgehog. It states that the closer two people are to each other, the more they may hurt one another. However, this is not an issue for hedgehogs as the male's penis is very near the center of its abdomen (often mistaken for a belly button) and the female has the ability to curl her tail upward to the point that her vagina protrudes behind the rest of her body. As such, the male doesn't have to get completely on top of the female when mating.
Hedgehogs have a relatively long lifespan for their size (a mouse is 2 years and a large rat is 3-5 years). Larger species of hedgehogs live 4-7 years in the wild (some have been recorded up to 16 years). Smaller species live 2-4 years (4-7 in captivity). Lack of predators and controlled diet contribute to a longer lifespan in captivity.
The most common pet species of hedgehog are hybrids of the white-bellied hedgehog or four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) and the Algerian hedgehog (A. algirus). It is smaller than the European hedgehog, and thus is sometimes called African pygmy hedgehog. Other species kept as pets are the Egyptian long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus auritus) and the Indian long-eared hedgehog (H. collaris).
All three species prefer a warm climate (above 72°F/22°C) and do not hibernate. Attempts to hibernate are commonly fatal. They eat an insectivore diet. Commonly, this is replaced with catfood and ferret food and is supplemented by insects and other small animals. Although dog and cat food is bad for Hedghogs and often causes liver damage among other things. Today, many pet stores sell hegehog mixes that are specifically formulated for hedgehogs. Crickets, mealworms, and pinkies (baby mice) are also favored treats. It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in some U.S. states and some Canadian municipalities, and breeding licenses are required. No such restrictions exist in most European countries.
The purchase of domesticated hedgehogs has seen a considerable increase in the last few years due to their apparently innocent and playful looks. Hedgehogs are difficult to maintain as pets due to their low resistance to climate and temperature changes, and their inability to adapt to enclosed environments.
Hedgehogs are a powerful form of pest control. A single hedgehog can keep an average garden free of pests by eating up to 200 grams of insects each night. Therefore, it is common throughout England to see people attempting to lure hedgehogs into their gardens with treats and hedgehog-sized holes in their fences.
One problem with using hedgehogs for garden pest control is the use of chemical insecticide. While the hedgehog is immune to most poisons, it is not immune to them when ingesting insects full of the poison. This causes many hedgehog deaths where pet hedgehogs eat contaminated bugs within the house.
In areas where hedgehogs have been introduced, such as New Zealand and the islands of Scotland, the hedgehog itself has become a pest. In New Zealand it causes immense damage to native species including insects, snails and ground-nesting birds, particularly shore birds. As with many introduced animals, it lacks natural predators. With overpopulation, it kills off more insects than initially intended and expands its diet to include things such as snails, worms, and the eggs of wading birds. Attempts to eliminate hedgehogs from bird colonies on the Scottish islands of North Uist and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides have met with considerable opposition.
There are many diseases common to hedgehogs, mostly fatal. These include cancer, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and wobbly hedgehog syndrome.
Cancer is very common in hedgehogs. The most common is squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell spreads quickly from the bone to the organs in hedgehogs, unlike in humans. Surgery to remove the tumors is rare because it would result in removing too much bone structure.
Fatty liver disease is believed by many to be caused by bad diet. Hedgehogs will eagerly eat foods that are high in fat and sugar. Having a metabolism designed for low-fat, protein-rich insects, this leads to common problems of obesity. Fatty liver disease is one sign, heart disease is another.
Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is very similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. The hedgehog slowly loses muscle control. Initially, it wobbles when attempting to stand still. Given time, the hedgehog loses all muscle control, including control of the lungs and heart. Vitamin E has been shown to delay the deterioration, but it is very temporary as a higher and higher dose is required.
As with most small mammals living around humans, cars pose a great threat to hedgehogs. Many are run over as they attempt to cross roadways.
Another common human-related fatality is pesticides. Hedgehogs that eat insects filled with pesticides will often form digestive problems and eventually die.
Hedgehogs are a food source in many cultures. A common recipe, often attributed to the Roma people, is to bake a hedgehog that has been covered in plaster or clay. When the hedgehog is taken out of the oven, the plaster is smashed, also bringing down the bones and spikes of the hedgehog, leaving only the meat.
In 2006, McDonald's changed the design of their McFlurry containers to be more hedgehog-friendly. Previously, hedgehogs would get their head stuck in the container as they tried to lick the remaining food from inside the cup. Then, they would starve to death, being unable to get out. Domesticated hedgehogs display this behavior by getting their head stuck in tubes (commonly, toilet paper tubes) and walking around with the tube on their head. Hedgehog owners often refer to this as "tubing" and promote the behavior by supplying clean tubes.
During the Middle Ages hedgehogs were seen as a source of food. Several recipes from the time call for the use of hedgehog meat.
Genera and species
Subfamily Erinaceinae (Hedgehogs)
- Genus Atelerix (African hedgehogs)
- Four-toed Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris)
- North African Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus)
- Southern African Hedgehog (Atelerix frontalis)
- Somali Hedgehog (Atelerix sclateri)
- Genus Erinaceus (Woodland hedgehogs)
- Amur Hedgehog (Erinaceus amurensis)
- Korean hedgehog (Erinaceus amurensis dealbatus)
- Eastern European Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor)
- Western European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
- Amur Hedgehog (Erinaceus amurensis)
- Genus Hemiechinus (Steppe hedgehogs, Desert hedgehogs)
- Desert Hedgehog (Hemiechinus aethiopicus)
- Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus)
- Afghan Hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus megalotis)
- Indian Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus collaris)
- Brandt's Hedgehog (Hemiechinus hypomelas)
- Indian Hedgehog (Hemiechinus micropus)
- Bare-bellied Hedgehog (Hemiechinus nudiventris)
- Genus Mesechinus (Steppe hedgehogs)
- Daurian Hedgehog (Mesechinus dauuricus)
- Hugh's Hedgehog (Mesechinus hughi)
- Hedgehogs in culture
- Hedgehog's dilemma
- Sonic the Hedgehog
- Echidnas (members of the order Monotremata) look similar to hedgehogs
- The Canadian Hedgehog Association
- DMOZ Hedgehogs (Pets)
- DMOZ Hedgehogs (Species)
- Finnish Hedgehog Association
- Hedgehog Central
- Hedgehog reference at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
- Hedgehog Welfare Society
- Hedgehog World
- The International Hedgehog Association
- The International Hedgehog Registry
- UK Mammal Society fact sheet - European Hedgehog
- USENET Hedgehog FAQ
- St. Tiggywinkles Rehabilitation Facility
- Daisy Meadows Hedgehogs
- Goat Creek Ranch Hedgehogs
- Hamor Hollow Hedgehogs
- Hawthorn Rats & Hedgehogs
- Hedgehog Valley
- La Hérisonnière de la Mauricie
- Hungry Hedgehog
- PogStar Hedgehogs
- Sophie Hannan
- Hedgeboken Hedgehogs
- Terrapin Hedgehogs