There are 17 individual species of hedgehog found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, while there is also a population of introduced hedgehogs in New Zealand. Despite superficially resembling America-based porcupines and Australia-based, monotreme echidnas, hedgehogs are not related to the similarly spiny creatures, although this may be the reason as to why these species occupy distinct parts of the world.
Hedgehogs mainly come out as night, spending most of the day sleeping in dense foliage or underground burrows, and rise to feast on slugs and snails, insects, eggs, plant matter and various other animals.
Hibernation is a key over-wintering strategy for hedgehogs. They spend the cold, food-sparse months sleeping in an isolated and insulated place, safe from disruption. However, sometimes hedgehogs may inadvertently choose to begin their hibernation at the same time that we start to build garden bonfires. Make sure you check yours before lighting!
Strangely, hedgehogs also anoint themselves in unfamiliar scents when they come across them in the wild. Licking and chewing the substance they then transfer the frothy saliva onto their spines where they may act as deterrents or camouflage from predators. Equally, they could also be an attractive signal to other hedgehogs - we just don't know!
Hedgehog spines are modified, hollow hairs made from keratin, the same molecule that makes up our fingernails.
The hedgehog's famous ability to roll into a tight ball is an effective deterrent to predators and with two muscles that run the length of the back they can orientate their spines to point towards any danger. The only regular hedgehog predator in the UK are badgers, who use their powerful front legs to prise them out of their defensive ball.
Where the hedgehog has been introduced to various parts of the world, there has often followed a wave of destruction. It is particularly damaging to colonies of ground-nesting sea-birds which inhabit secluded islands. As these birds have no natural terrestrial predators the voracious egg-eating hedgehogs can cause major problems.
- Hedgehogs have a natural immunity to snake venom.
- Hedgehogs can give birth as soon as 35 days after conception.
- In the UK it is illegal to keep a wild hedgehog as a pet.
- "Hedgehog" stems from the 1450 with "heyghoge" - found in hedgerows with a pig-like snout.