Hedgehog Facts

Scientific Name: Erinaceidae

Close up of a Hedgehog, Erinaceidae

Valenta­n Rodraguez / Getty Images

Hedgehogs (Erinaceidae) are a group of insectivores that are native to parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Hedgehogs are small mammals with rotund bodies and distinct spines made of keratin. They come by their unusual name as a result of their foraging behavior: They root through hedges to find worms, insects, and other food while making pig-like grunting sounds.

Fast Facts: Hedgehog

  • Scientific Name: Erinaceus
  • Common Name(s): Hedgehog, urchin, hedgepig, furze-pig
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: Head and body: 5 to 12 inches; tail: 1 to 2 inches
  • Weight: 14–39 ounces
  • Lifespan: 2–7 years depending on species
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, New Zealand (as an exotic species)
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

Hedgehogs have a round body and dense spines on their back. Their belly, legs, face, and ears are free of spines. The spines are cream-colored and have brown and black bands on them. Hedgehog spines resemble those of a porcupine but they are not easily lost and are only shed and replaced when young hedgehogs reach adulthood or when a hedgehog is unwell or stressed.

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 keen sense of hearing and smell, and they use their sharper senses of smell and hearing to help them locate prey.

The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Oksana Schmidt/Getty Images

Habitat and Distribution

Hedgehogs are found in many locations across Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are not present in Australia, North America, Central America or South America, though have been introduced to New Zealand as an exotic species. Hedgehogs occupy a variety of habitats including forests, grasslands, scrublands, hedges, suburban gardens, and agricultural areas.

Diet

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.

Behavior

When threatened, hedgehogs crouch and hiss but they are better known for their defensive tactics than their might. 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 mammals. They are occasionally 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 for several months during the winter. During hibernation, the body temperature and heart rate of the hedgehogs decline.

Reproduction and Offspring

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.

Subspecies

Hedgehogs are divided into five subgroups that include Eurasian hedgehogs (Erinaceus), African hedgehogs (Atelerix and Paraechinus), desert hedgehogs (Hemiechinus), and steppe hedgehogs (Mesechinus). There are a total of 17 species of hedgehogs. Hedgehog species include:

  • Four-toed hedgehog, Atelerix albiventris
  • North African hedgehog, Atelerix algirus
  • Southern African hedgehog, Atelerix frontalis
  • Somali hedgehog, Atelerix sclateri
  • Amur hedgehog, Erinaceus amurensis
  • Southern white-breasted hedgehog, Erinaceus concolor
  • European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus
  • Northern white-breasted hedgehog, Erinaceus roumanicus
  • Long-eared hedgehog, Hemiechinus auritus
  • Indian long-eared hedgehog, Hemiechinus collaris
  • Daurian hedgehog, Mesechinus dauuricus
  • Hugh's hedgehog, Mesechinus hughi
  • Desert hedgehog, Paraechinus aethiopicus
  • Brandt's hedgehog, Paraechinus hypomelas
  • Indian hedgehog, Paraechinus micropus
  • Bare-bellied hedgehog, Paraechinus nudiventris

Conservation Status

Hedgehogs are listed as of Least Concern, as there are large populations of hedgehogs around the world. Many species of hedgehogs, however, are on the decline as a result of habitat loss, pesticide use, and poaching for use in traditional medicines. Conservation attempts are underway around the world; as a BBC article says: “A world without hedgehogs would be an uglier place."

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.

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