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14 Hedgehog Facts To Unravel About Our Spiky Friends

Hedgehogs may appear small and unassuming, but they possess many characteristics that people overlook. These nocturnal creatures have adapted well to various environments and can often hide within hedges and gardens. We will learn more about these extraordinary mammals and their vital role in ecosystems as we explore this list of hedgehog facts.

One of the most noteworthy hedgehog facts relates to their unique defense mechanism: their spines, similar to porcupine quills. From the 5,000 quills lining their backs to their ability to roll into a tight ball, this article will provide a fuller picture of hedgehog physiology and behavior by exploring such details.

Related: To learn more about a less prickly mammal, check out our armadillo facts.

Summary: Essential Hedgehog Facts

Hedgehog Profile
Scientific name: Erinaceinae
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Erinaceomorpha
Family: Erinaceidae
Genus:Five genera: Erinaceus, Paraechinus, Mesechinus, Atelerix and Hemiechinus
Species: 17 hedgehog species (including Eastern, European, and Amur hedgehogs)
Physical Characteristics
Size: 5-12 inches (depending on the species)
Weight: 0.5-2.5 pounds (depending on the species)
Distinctive characteristics: Covered in spines, small ears and eyes
Habitat and Range
Habitat: Deciduous forests, grasslands, scrublands, gardens
Geographic range: Europe, West Asia, Africa
Conservation Status
Status: Mostly Least Concern, some Near Threatened
Major threats: Habitat loss, road accidents, pesticide exposure
Conservation initiatives: Hedgehog Preservation Society, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, numerous regional initiatives

Hedgehog Q&A

These Are Some of the Most Common Questions People Ask About Hedgehogs with Answers:

  • Do hedgehogs have bones? - Yes, hedgehogs do have a skeleton, including tiny bones in their spines.
  • How many spines does a hedgehog have? - A hedgehog has approximately 5,000 to 7,000 spines.
  • Do all hedgehogs hibernate? - Most hedgehogs hibernate, though it depends on their natural habitat and species.
  • What do hedgehogs eat? - Hedgehogs are omnivores and eat a diet of insects, snails, frogs, toads, snakes, bird eggs, carrion, mushrooms, grass roots, berries, melons and watermelons.
  • Are hedgehogs nocturnal? - Yes, hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, being most active during the night.
  • Do hedgehogs carry diseases? - Hedgehogs can carry salmonella and other zoonotic diseases, but they are not known to commonly transmit diseases to humans.
  • Can hedgehogs swim? - Yes, while not natural swimmers, hedgehogs are capable of swimming short distances.
  • Are hedgehogs good pets? - While subjective, hedgehogs can make good pets given the right care, although they are illegal to own in some locations.

14 Facts About Hedgehogs

autumn leaves and hedgehog facts intro
Photo by Sierra NiCole Narvaeth on Unsplash

1. Hedgehogs have spiky armor.

Hedgehogs below to the Erinaceidae family. There are 17 different species of hedgehog distributed globally.

Hedgehogs' distinct spines are modified hairs made of keratin, the same protein found in human hair and nails. With over 5,000 hollow, stiff, prickly spines covering their backs and sides, hedgehogs display various colors, from white to dark brown.

Notably, hedgehog quills protect them from predators like birds of prey, foxes, or badgers to bite or grab them. These spiky creatures can skillfully control their spine movement and positioning when sensing danger, thanks to the muscles connected to each spine. 

Although it's a common misconception, hedgehog spikes are neither barbed nor poisonous. However, they can still cause irritation or pain if they puncture the skin.

2. Hedgehogs roll into balls for protection.

curled up hedgehog on hand
Photo by Ratapan Anantawat on Unsplash

Aside from the spikes, no hedgehog fact list will be complete without this one. Another defense mechanism hedgehogs have whenever they face an imminent threat is their ability to curl into a tight ball. It effectively hides their vulnerable head, legs, and belly within a protective shell of sharp spines. 

As hedgehogs curl up, their spines stand erect and point outward, creating a formidable barrier discouraging predators from finding a safe grip without harming themselves. 

This adaptation is made possible by the orbicularis muscle, a specialized muscle that runs along the hedgehog's body like a drawstring, helping them maintain their compact, spiky form.

3. Hedgehogs are super sniffers.

Despite their very poor eyesight, hedgehogs rely heavily on their exceptional sense of smell to navigate their surroundings and locate food. Equipped with numerous scent receptors in their elongated snouts, they effectively detect various odors from meters away.

As they actively forage insects, their keen sense of smell efficiently uncovers hidden food, even those buried beneath leaves or soil. Consequently, scent trails become crucial for locating food sources.

Furthermore, their sensitive noses are vital in social interactions, particularly during mating season. Hedgehogs recognize individual scents, which enables them to distinguish between potential mates and competitors while marking territories to reduce conflicts.

They also use scent trails to return to their nests or burrows, ensuring a safe haven after a night of foraging.

4. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and solitary creatures.

cute hedgehog on green leaves
Photo by Marlowe Weingart on Unsplash

Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures that take advantage of the night for their activities. As solitary animals, they also value their own space. Within their individual territories marked with scent glands on their bellies, they can forage for food, rest, and breed without disturbances.

This independent lifestyle offers several benefits, such as reduced resource competition and a lower risk of attracting predators to a concentrated group.

Hedgehogs primarily socialize during mating season and communicate through occasional snuffles, grunts, and squeals when necessary, maintaining a largely solitary existence throughout the rest of the year.

Fun fact: Did you know that a group of hedgehogs is called an array?

5. Hedgehogs can live anywhere.

The different species of hedgehogs are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. They naturally inhabit places like grasslands, meadows, or forests. But they can do well in different environments with many insects or hiding spots.

Interestingly, hedgehogs also inhabit urban and suburban areas, making homes in gardens, parks, and cemeteries. They take advantage of city life, finding human-provided food and shelter. However, urban environments present challenges such as roads, pesticides, and diminishing green spaces.

Like European hedgehogs, these spiny creatures have demonstrated remarkable adaptability in tackling the difficulties of city living. But, in New Zealand, settlers brought them as invasive species, and their increasing numbers, while lacking natural predators, have caused substantial harm to indigenous insects, snails, lizards, and birds.

Their impressive adaptability enables hedgehogs to thrive in diverse environments, ranging from cold temperate regions to arid deserts.

6. Hedgehogs mainly feed on insects.

white spiky animal on grass
Photo by Artur Stanulevich on Unsplash

As insectivores, hedgehogs primarily consume various insects, worms, and invertebrates, thanks to their keen sense of smell for locating prey hidden under leaf litter or in the soil. They favor beetles, caterpillars, and earwigs while also consuming slugs, snails, and millipedes — assisting in controlling garden pests.

However, hedgehogs are opportunistic eaters, occasionally opting for frogs, lizards, baby rodents, fruits, berries, or fungi to meet their nutritional needs when insects are in short supply. Due to their feeding habits, hedgehogs are essential in maintaining ecological balance and supporting ecosystem health.

7. Hedgehogs anoint themselves.

When confronted with a new or potent scent, these hedgehogs whip up and rub frothy saliva over their spines. This procedure can last a few minutes or over an hour as the hedgehog twists and contorts its body to ensure every spine has a coat of the mixture3.

The purpose of self-anointing in hedgehogs remains a mystery, with several theories aiming to explain this intriguing behavior. Some researchers believe that the frothy saliva might serve as a sexual signal or scent camouflage. Another theory posits that the salivary mixture could offer protection from parasites or harmful bacteria, as it may contain antibacterial properties.

8. They developed resistance to snake venom

spiky brown hedgehog resting
Photo by Ashleigh Robertson on Unsplash

Hedgehogs are immune to snake venom, allowing them to prey on venomous snakes without succumbing to toxic effects. This adaptation involves molecular mechanisms such as toxin-neutralizing serum factors, consisting of human α1B-glycoprotein homologs that inhibit snake-venom metalloproteinases or phospholipase A(2) myotoxins.

Adaptive changes in venom-targeted molecules have received less attention, with some examples being amino-acid substitutions in mongoose nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and opossum von Willebrand factor (vWF). These changes help inhibit α-neurotoxin binding and weaken the bond between vWF and coagulopathic C-type lectins.

Despite identifying some mechanisms, the complexity of snake venoms suggests that ophiophagous mammals, like hedgehogs, likely have more numerous biochemical defenses than are currently known. Further research is essential to understand the intricacies of venom resistance in hedgehogs and other ophiophagous mammals2.

Related:  Bookmark our snake facts for more information about the slithering reptiles.

9. Hedgehogs observe unique mating rituals.

When a male hedgehog, called a boar, encounters a potential mate, he embarks on an elaborate "courtship dance" to win the female's approval. With snorts and grunts, he circles the female, known as a sow, showcasing his interest.

As the dance progresses, the female must carefully lower her spine, an essential step for successful mating. This delicate balance between the two hedgehogs highlights their specific reproductive behaviors.

10. Baby hedgehogs are "hoglets."

cute spiky animal held in one hand
Photo by Sierra NiCole Narvaeth on Unsplash

Born as tiny, blind, and helpless hoglets, baby hedgehogs rely on their mother's care and protection, lacking the hallmark prickly exterior of adult hedgehogs. After 30 to 40 days of gestation, they arrive with a delicate covering of soft, white natal spines.

These vulnerable newborns undergo an astonishing transformation within days, developing a second set of darker and stronger spines. The mother carefully tends to her hoglets, providing nourishment, warmth, and security in a nest. A baby hedgehog opens its eyes at three weeks old and begins exploring, learning essential life skills on foraging trips alongside their mother.

After approximately four to six weeks, the mother weans her offspring, gradually teaching them how to fend for themselves. This crucial period equips the young hedgehogs with valuable insights and abilities to survive in the wild.

11. Hedgehogs hibernate in the winter.

During winter, some hedgehog species actively hibernate to conserve energy and withstand harsh conditions with scarce food sources. This adaptation varies in duration, lasting from weeks to months, depending on factors such as the local climate and the hedgehog's fat reserves. As the cold season nears, hedgehogs voraciously consume food, storing fat reserves that become their primary energy source during hibernation1.

Moreover, hedgehogs dedicate considerable effort to constructing well-insulated nests, preferably in concealed, sheltered areas like hedgerows, leaf piles, or garden compost heaps.

Utilizing an assortment of materials like leaves, grass, and twigs, they skillfully build nests that shield them from harsh weather and ward off potential predators. Outside their expertly crafted shelters, hedgehogs curl into tight balls, maintaining their core body temperature throughout their hibernation.

Since hedgehogs are one of the only three mammals that hibernate in Great Britain, it is no wonder they caught the attention of British authors. For example, there is Beatrix Potter's children's book "The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle" and  Brian Jacques' "Redwall" series.

Meanwhile, the cute hedgehog Sonic is undoubtedly one of the iconic video game characters. He is the blue super-sonic hedgehog of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, which debuted in 1991. The characters' speed and signature quills make him an unforgettable ambassador for hedgehogs in popular culture.

13. Wild hedgehogs can make for good pets.

facts about hedgehog as pet
Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash

The African pygmy hedgehog is a unique pet option that has captured the hearts of many enthusiasts. While originating from Africa, these small mammals can make intriguing household additions. Unlike cats and dogs, these pet hedgehogs require specialized attention to ensure their health and happiness.

Aside from a nutritious diet, they also need a temperature-controlled environment. Regular gentle handling is necessary to manage their behavior while monitoring their health to help prevent issues like obesity and dental problems. These hedgehogs make for a long-term commitment, potentially living up to eight years. If unable to provide proper care, it's best to appreciate these unique creatures in the wild.

Related: Here's a link to our cat facts if you prefer a typical pet.

14. Hedgehogs are a species of "least concern."

It's concerning to know that although hedgehogs, including the desert species, are currently classified as "least concern" on the IUCN Red List, their populations are declining. They face several threats, from habitat loss to agricultural activities. Cultural practices, like consuming hedgehog meat and using burnt hedgehog skin, also contribute to the decline. 

Conservation efforts have focused on protecting and preserving hedgehog populations. Habitat restoration projects, like hedgehog-friendly gardens and green corridors, create suitable environments for them to thrive. 

In addition, public education campaigns raise awareness about hedgehogs. It also encourages responsible practices that minimize their exposure to threats, such as reducing pesticide use and improving gardens.

We hope our fun facts about hedgehogs have piqued your interest in these wonderful creatures. May we all do our part to ensure the survival of our spiky friends.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with H.

1

South, K. E., Haynes, K., & Jackson, A. C. (2020). Hibernation Patterns of the European Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, at a Cornish Rescue Centre. Animals, 10(8), 1418.

2

Voss, R. S., & Jansa, S. A. (2012). Snake-venom resistance as a mammalian trophic adaptation: lessons from didelphid marsupials. Biological Reviews, 87(4), 822–837.

3

Brockie, R. E. (1976). Self-anointing by wild hedgehogs, Erinaceus Europaeus, in New Zealand. Animal Behaviour, 24(1), 68–71.

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

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