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Nature

The Friendly Hedgehog

facts about hedgehogs

Hedgehog on the move
Almost cuddly…. Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay.

The little hedgehog has a few names besides the obvious, as ‘gardeners friend’ and the archaic name being ‘urchin’. Later named hedgehog due to its habit of foraging under shrubs and hedges making grunting sounds not dissimilar to a pig or hog.

The classical Persians saw the hedgehog as sacred as they ate so many pests at night. Many cultures ate and still eat hedgehogs with some cultures regarding them as having healing properties from impotence to a witchcraft remedy.

When threatened it first attempts to escape and is remarkably fast on its little feet. Second level of defense is it rolls into a little spiked ball which deters most predators. Hedgehog predators are typically nocturnal but not limited to owls, foxes, jackal, wolves, mongoose and badgers. Badgers being one of the few animals that can unroll a hedgehog!

Hedgehog in full sprint
hedgehog on the run. Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay.

Unlike the porcupine whose quills are easily detached from its body, the unrelated hedgehogs spikes are fixed. The little spikes are made from keratin, same as a human nail and how many spikes are there?

Apparently between 5 000 and 6 000 !

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so not a very good pet choice if you want to sleep at night. They prey on insects and will take advantage of carrion as well as birds eggs, baby birds and frogs. Having been introduced to New Zealand and now well established they have contributed to the reduced numbers of kiwis.

During winter when they hibernate, hedgehogs move into in burrows that they either make themselves or they take them over from some other luckless resident. Alternatively, they build a thick nest of leaves and moss that is waterproof and insulates the animal from the external cold. Studies have found nests effective in keeping the temperature at around 1 C when outside it is -8 C.

Summer on the other hand finds its nest being more of a temporary nature and fits in with its nomadic lifestyle. Unless of course they are breeding in which case a better quality nest is built being lined with grass and leaves.

Mating as can be imagined is a somewhat delicate operation with the female taking on a position and flattening her spines. The male then mounts from the rear. Studies have shown that hedgehogs are promiscuous with multiple partners in a single season. Gestation is around 35 days and a female would typically have either one or maybe two litters a season.

Hedgehogs are ‘induced-ovulators’ only producing an egg when mating. Once mating is done the male leaves, taking no part in rearing the young.

Baby hedgehogs are born blind
Hoglets in a nest. Photo by Kreutzfelder from Pixabay.

Baby hedgehogs are born blind and the spines are under a layer of skin that protects the mother during birth. Within a few hours the spines break through the skin or more accurately, the skin contracts. The spines are still soft at this point but the skin takes on a darker color. If the nest is disturbed the mother may well eat the ‘hoglets’ but not always, this behavior is more likely during the first ten days after birth.

After 14 days, the eyes are still closed but he ears are starting to further develop with the ear hole becoming visible. At 21 days the eyes are open and teeth are starting to develop.

At four weeks, mom will take them on their first foraging trips and there appears to be no attempt to abandon her children. Sometimes she may even hibernate with them. Hedgehogs are solitary animals and are inclined to wander off as they get older.

Hedgehog teeth number in the region of 44 teeth and have incisors, premolars, molars and canine teeth – much like humans and have a natural resistance to most snake venom due to the presence of the protein erinacin!

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