Learn interesting facts about hedgehogs. They are so adorable, they are now a top choice for exotic pets. See tips below if you plan on getting one.
Hedgehogs are one of the cutest animals. They are small nocturnal mammals with a spiny coat and short legs. The spines are hollow, not poisonous and made of keratin. They are similar to the quills of a porcupine but unlike the quills of the porcupine, they are not barbed, and cannot be easily removed from the animal.
There are 16 species of hedgehogs in the sub-family “Erinaceinae”, further divided into 5 different genuses.
16 Species of Hedgehogs
They are found throughout parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. None are native to Australia and there are no living species native to North America. They can also be found in New Zealand because they have been introduced there. The hedgehog species is one of the oldest surviving mammals. They first evolved about 15 million years ago. The smallest of all the species is the African pygmy hedgehog and the most common specie kept as a pet. The largest is the European hedgehog and the most commonly found in the wild
So how did the hedgehog get its name?
Well, according to the National Geographic:
“The hedgehog was named because of its peculiar foraging methods. These animals root through hedges and other undergrowth in search of the small creatures that compose the bulk of their diet—insects, worms, centipedes, snails, mice, frogs, and snakes. As a hedgehog picks its way through the hedges it emits piglike grunts—thus, the hedgehog”
16 Interesting Facts About Hedgehogs
- They are about 5 to 12 inches long and weigh between 1 to 3 pounds.
- Hedgehogs have about 5,000 spines made of the same material as human hair, keratin. Each spine lasts for about a year then falls out and a replacement grows.
- Their sharp spiny coat provides them with protection from predators. When threatened, they curl up into a little prickly and unappetizing ball to protect their vulnerable bellies and deter predators. They sleep in this position for protection.
- They also have brown fur all over their bodies including their legs, face, and necks.
- They have a long snout that extends beyond the front of their mouth which they use to help them forage for food.
- Hedgehogs adapt to their environments by hibernating in cold habitats during the winter. In deserts, they sleep through heat and drought. And in temperate locations, they remain active all year round.
- They are nocturnal and spend most of the day sleeping and become active at dusk. Typically found under vegetation around parks, gardens, and farmlands where food is plentiful. They like moist places and make their homes in holes or abandoned tunnels.
- Hedgehogs have 5 toes on their front paws with short nails. The back paws have 4 toes with long, constantly growing nails. They use these for digging for food and to make dens for shelter.
- When hunting for food they rely on their sense of smell and hearing because they have poor eyesight.
- A group of hedgehogs is called an array, but they are solitary animals and only come together during mating, so it is very hard to spot an array.
- Hedgehogs are primarily insectivores but also eat a variety of other animals and plants. They feed on insects, snails, frogs and toads, caterpillars, worms, beetles, snakes, and bird eggs. Their favorite food is slugs and worms. And they also eat mushrooms, grass roots, berries, melons and watermelons.
- Because hedgehogs can eat up to 200 grams of bugs each night, they are a form of natural pest control! In the U.K. it is common for people to lure hedgehogs into their gardens. They leave them treats and add holes to their fences for hedgehogs to squeeze in. Some build them small homes.
- Hedgehogs stay mainly in the ground but can swim and climb trees if they need to.
- One strange behavior unique to hedgehogs is a ritual called “anointing”. When the hedgehog comes across a new scent, it licks it and bites it, and then forms a scented saliva froth it puts all over its quills with its tongue. Experts believe it does this for extra protection. To camouflage itself and perhaps it provides a source of infection to the potential predator.
- Female hedgehogs give birth each year to a litter of 1 to 11 babies after a 32 day gestation period. Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets and are born with soft and short spines. They begin to harden shortly after birth and are ready and effective by the time they are 3 weeks old. At this time, they can safely leave the nest and follow their mother as she looks for food.
- The average lifespan is 3 to 9 years.
Hedgehogs are currently listed in the IUCN Red List as least concern with a stable population. Their natural predators are badgers and foxes. Unfortunately, a lot of them die from eating poisoned slugs. So if you see any hedgehogs in your garden, don’t use any pesticide. Let the cute little hedgehog do your garden’s pest control!
More Hedgehog Facts: Can I Keep A Hedgehog As A Pet?
Hedgehogs have become one of the most popular choices for exotic pets. But, as with any pet, it is important to do your homework and learn more about them and how to care for them. First, make sure to check the laws in your state. They are legal to be kept as pets in most states except in a handful of them. Some states consider hedgehogs wild animals and do not permit for them to be kept in homes. As of now, these states include California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New York City. In Maine, you need a permit to own one. And some states have strict rules you must abide by.
7 Quick Tips: Hedgehogs as Pets
- Because they are solitary and territorial animals they should be housed alone.
- Before you pick one up, you need to learn to handle it to avoid getting poked by the quills. When the hedgehog is relaxed, its quills are not sharp.
- Hedgehogs cannot eat grains or dairy products.
- You must keep their environment around 70 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid hibernation which can be fatal for a pet hedgehog.
- Some can be shy and will need more attention and patience.
- The average lifespan of a pet hedgehog is 4-6 years.
- Pet hedgehogs can transmit infections to humans. Some are asymptomatic carriers.