In our last lesson we looked at insectivores so for a bit of fun I thought we would take a closer look at one of my favourites, the hedgehog. There is some very nice information adapted from thought.co.
Hedgehogs are insectivores that are native to parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are small mammals with rounded bodies and distinct spines made of keratin (this is the same material that makes up our hair and nails).
They are called hedgehogs because of their foraging behaviour: They root through hedges to find worms, insects, and other food while making noises like a pig (hog is a type of pig).
What do they look like?
Hedgehogs have a round body and dense spines on their back. Their belly, legs, face, and ears do not have spines. The spines are cream-coloured and have brown and black bands on them.
Hedgehog spines look like a porcupine’s but they are not easily lost and are only come off and get replaced when young hedgehogs grow up or when a hedgehog is unwell or stressed out.
Hedgehogs have a white or tan face and short limbs with long curved claws. They have poor vision despite their large eyes but they have a super sense of hearing and smell, and they use their sharper senses of smell and hearing to help them locate food.
Where do they live?
Hedgehogs are found in many locations across Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are NOT found in Australia, North America, Central America or South America, though have been introduced to New Zealand as an exotic species. Hedgehogs live in many different places including: forests, grasslands, scrub-lands, hedges, suburban gardens, and agricultural areas.
What do they eat?
Although they belong to the group of mammals formerly known as the insectivores, hedgehogs eat a varied diet that includes more than just insects. Hedgehogs feed on a variety of invertebrates such as insects, snails, and slugs as well as some small vertebrates including reptiles, frogs and birds’ eggs. They also feed on plant materials such as grass, roots, and berries.
How do they behave?
When scared, hedgehogs crouch and hiss. If provoked, hedgehogs usually roll up by contracting the muscles that run along their back and in doing so raise their spines and curl their body and enclosing themselves in a protective ball of spines. Hedgehogs can also run quickly for short periods of time.
Hedgehogs are for the most part nocturnal (active at night) mammals. They are sometimes active during the day but more often shelter themselves in shrubs, tall vegetation or rock crevices during daylight hours. Hedgehogs construct burrows or use those dug by other mammals such as rabbits and foxes. They make nests underground in burrow chambers that they line with plant material.
Some species of hedgehogs hibernate (sleep) for several months during the winter. During hibernation, the body temperature and heart rate of the hedgehogs decrease.
How do they have babies?
Hedgehogs are generally solitary animals that spend time with one another only during mating season and when rearing young. Young hedgehogs mature in four to seven weeks after birth. Each year, hedgehogs can raise as many as three litters of young with as many as 11 babies.
Hedgehogs are born blind and gestation lasts up to 42 days. Young hedgehogs are born with spines that are shed and replaced with larger stronger spines when they mature.
Hedgehogs and People
Hedgehogs are well-loved animals and are featured in traditional children’s stories and fairy tales. Featured in tales by Beatrix Potter, the hedgehog retains its popularity in the Sonic the Hedgehog video game.