Hedgehogs are small mammals in the family Erinaceinae. They share distant ancestry with shrews and have not changed much over the last 15 million years. Hedgehogs have adapted to a nocturnal way of life. The name hedgehog came about in 1450. “Hedge” because they often hang out in hedgerows, and “hog” because of their piglike snout. A group of hedgehogs is called an array.
Hedgehogs are easily identified by their spines which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Their spines are not poisonous or barbed, and unlike a porcupine they do not detach easily from their bodies. Hedgehogs will roll up into a ball for defense and all of their spines will point outwards. When they roll up into a ball, their quills will protect the tucked head, feet, and belly which are not quilled. They are prey to predators such as birds, ferrets, mongoose, foxes, and wolves.
Hedgehogs sleep for a large portion of the day under bushes, grasses, rocks, or dens dug in the ground. Some hedgehogs will hibernate depending on the temperature, species, and abundance of food. During their hibernation their body temperature can drop to around 36 degrees F.
Hedgehogs are fairly vocal and communicate through a combination of grunts, snuffles, and squeals. They will occasionally perform a ritual called anointing where they will lick and bite the source of a new scent and then rub it on their spines with their tongue. Hedgehogs have some natural immunity against snake venom through the protein erinacin in their muscular system.
Gestation period for hedgehogs is 35-58 days and their average litter size is 3-6 newborns. As with any mammal it is not uncommon for an adult male to kill a newborn male. Hedgehogs will live for 4-7 years in the wild and 8-10 years in captivity. They are born blind and with a protective membrane covering their quills which will fall off.
]Hedgehogs are considered a pest in New Zealand because they cause immense damage to native species and have no natural predators there. Cancer is very common in hedgehogs and spreads quickly from the bones to the organs. Hedgehogs are a food source in many cultures including in Ancient Egypt. In Africa hedgehogs are used in traditional medicine and in witchcraft. Albino hedgehogs lack pigmentation due to a genetic mutation. Only one in ten thousand hedgehogs is born completely white with red eyes.
Area: Europe, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand (by introduction)
Habitat: Forests, dry savanna, shrublands, and grasslands
Diet: Omnivores; insects, snails, frogs, toads, snakes, bird eggs, mushrooms, roots berries and melons
Size: 8 - 10 inches