Hedgehogs

Scientific name: Erinaceidae

Hedgehogs - Erinaceidae
Hedgehogs - Erinaceidae. Photo © Valenta­n Rodraguez / Getty Images.

Hedgehogs (Erinaceidae) are a group of insectivores that includes seventeen species. Hedgehogs are small mammals with a rotund body shape and distinct spines made of keratin. The 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 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. They have a white or tan face and short limbs with long curved claws. Hedgehogs 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.

Hedgehogs are found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are not present in Australia, North America, Central America or South America. They have been introduced to New Zealand.

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. The 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.

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 are larger than their relatives the shrews. Hedgehogs range in size from 10 to 15 cm and weigh between 40 and 60 grams. Although they belong to the group of mammals known as the insectivores, hedgehogs eat a varied diet that includes more than just insects.

Classification:

Animals > Chordates > Mammals > Insectivores > Hedgehogs

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 seventeen 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

 

Diet:

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.

Habitat:

Hedgehogs inhabit a range that includes Europe, Asia, and Africa. They occupy a variety of habitats including forests, grasslands, scrublands, hedges, suburban gardens and agricultural areas.

Evolution:

The closest living relatives to the hedgehogs are the gymnures. Hedgehogs are thought to have changed little since their origins during the Eocene. Like all insectivores, hedgehogs are considered to be relatively primitive among placental mammals.

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Klappenbach, Laura. "Hedgehogs." ThoughtCo, Jun. 5, 2015, thoughtco.com/hedgehogs-profile-130256. Klappenbach, Laura. (2015, June 5). Hedgehogs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hedgehogs-profile-130256 Klappenbach, Laura. "Hedgehogs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hedgehogs-profile-130256 (accessed December 16, 2017).