hedgehog belongs to the family Erinaceinae It is one of the oldest mammals on earth. It is estimated that it has been on earth for about 15 million years.

Frontal photograph of a hedgehog
Frontal photograph of a hedgehog

Species

There are no native Australian species, and no living species native to North America.

  • Genus Erinaceus: Eroasian hedgehogs.
    • Erizo de Machuria (Erinaceus amurensis)
    • E. dark oriental (Erinaceus concolor)
    • E. common (Erinaceus europaeus)
    • E. of the Balkans (Erinaceus roumanicus)
  • Género Atelerix: African hedgehogs.
    • White-bellied hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris)
    • E. moruno (Atelerix algirus)
    • E. South African (Atelerix frontalis)
    • E. Somali (Atelerix sclateri)
  • Genus Hemiechinus: Desert hedgehogs.
    • E. orejudo​ (Hemiechinus auritus)
    • E. eared from India​ (Hemiechinus collaris)
  • Genus Mesechinus: Steppe hedgehogs.
    • Gobi Hedgehog (Mesechinus dauuricus)
    • E. de Hugh (Mesechinus hughi)
    • E. de bosque de Gaoligong (Mesechinus wangi)
  • Genus Paraechinus
    • Desert hedgehog (Paraechinus aethiopicus)
    • E. de Brandt (Paraechinus hypomelas)
    • E. from India (Paraechinus micropus)
    • Bare belly (Paraechinus nudiventris)

Features

The hedgehog can vary in size and weight depending on the species. The body measures between 14 - 30 cm. It has a stubby tail and sparse hair is between 1 - 6 cm. Most species weigh less than 700 g, but the european common hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) can weigh up to 1.100 g.

All species are very similar to each other, although some species such as those in the desert tend to have larger ears and longer legs.

The limbs are thin and very short, but the feet are large and have long, curved claws. In the genus Atelerix, the first toe is small or lacking. Although the eyes are large, vision is poor. Hearing and smell are sharp; the ears are visible and the conical, movable muzzle ends in a wet, hairless nose.

The short, stocky body is thickly covered with spikes, I accept the lower part, the legs, the face and the ears. The spikes are used to protect themselves from predators. The quills are hollow hairs composed of keratin (the same material as human hair and nails). Unlike porcupine the quills are not poisonous nor can they be easily removed.

The spikes are cream colored mixed with brown and black. The color of the upper parts varies from mottled cream to brown, depending on the width of the pigmented bands. Certain individuals are black. The lower part is covered by a sparse and thick paleja, which varies from white to black (sometimes mottled) depending on the species. The face also varies and can be white, brownish, or show a masked pattern.

Larger species live longer in the wild than small ones, as larger species have fewer predators. The large ones usually last an average of 8 years, and the small ones, about 5 years. In captivity they last longer by eliminating predators.

Behavior

The hedgehog is a nocturnal animal, but they are occasionally active during the day after a light rain. They are terrestrial, although they can climb and swim. During the day they take refuge under vegetation, in rock crevices, rock ledges or in burrows dug using their claws. If they find an empty burrow, they will not hesitate to use it.

They are solitary animals, except in the reproductive stage when they have to perform courtship, copulation and care of the young until four or seven weeks.

They walk slowly, with short, quick steps, depending on the species, stopping frequently to sniff the air. They are also capable of creating short bursts of speed, lifting their body off the ground as they run on the hairless silvers of their feet.

They are very noisy animals and use growls and snorts to communicate with each other. If he is stressed or unwell, they shed their quills.

They lick or chew unknown substances or objects and produce copious amounts of foamy saliva, which they then use to spread it on their quills. The significance of this behavior is unknown.

Hedgehog rolled up on itself.
Hedgehog rolled up on itself.

Hibernation

When winter comes they need to hibernate during the colder months, although not all do, as they depend on the species, the climate, and the amount of food available in their habitat.

To achieve this, they accumulate fat under the skin and around the meats and shoulders. At a hibernation temperature of 4ºC, the heartbeat slows to 190-20 per minute and respiration slows to 10 inhalations per minute.

Species that live in warmer regions can go into short periods of torpor.

Defense

They can duck, whistle, and erect their dorsal spikes at the slightest danger. But his best defense consists of the ability to roll up on himself. This is possible thanks to a muscle that surrounds the body from the neck to the rump along those of the body just under the skin and within which are the peripheral barbs.

As the animal coils, this muscle and several much smaller connectors contract into a bag (like an adjustable drawstring) into which the head, body, and legs are inserted. The spines that are normally oblique become erect, and the animal transforms into a ball of sharp spikes that protect vulnerable areas such as the head, appendages and soft belly from predators.

However, those that live in desert areas prefer to flee from predators before using this option. This behavior has created that each species has a different predator.

Habitat

The hedgehog lives in different habitats depending on the region. It can be found inhabiting the taiga and tundra in Eurasia. In Western Europe, it inhabits forests, grasslands, bushes, hedges, and suburban gardens. In Africa certain species survive in deserts around oases and vegetated wadis.

Distribution

The hedgehog range throughout Eurasia (excluding Japan and the Tibetan Plateau) to Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula, most of Africa, and various parts of India. It was artificially introduced into New Zealand.

Food

The hedgehog is a carnivorous animal that specializes in insects, arthropods (including Spiders y poisonous scorpions), snails, slugs, frogs and toads, Lizards, snakes (including poisonous species), eggs of birds, chickens and fallen fruits.

They use their great sense of smell to locate food, grasping active prey with their mouths as they take root in leaf litter and between plant roots. As they search for food, they snort, chewing loudly with their jaws.

Predators

The hedgehog has different predators depending on where they live. Those that live in large forests are hunted by owls, birds and ferrets. While the smallest that live in more open areas are hunted by foxes, wolves and weasels.

To defend themselves they can curl up to protect themselves from mammals, but they remain vulnerable to some species of hawks, eagles, and owls due to the scaly legs and sharp claws of birds that are immune to their quills.

Reproduction

During the year, between one or three litters can be produced, ranging from 1 - 11 young. Larger females give birth to litters of 3 - 4 hedgehogs and smaller females tend to have larger litters giving birth to 5 - 7 young. Gestation lasts between 31 - 42 days.

They are born blind and defenseless. They have soft, scattered white barbs that can be vaguely seen under the skin. They are replaced between three and five days by dark permanent spikes.

Females will sometimes eat their young, if the nest is disturbed soon after birth, and the males will attack and eat young hedgehogs of the same species. They can live up to seven years.

Hedgehog resting in a burrow.
Hedgehog resting in a burrow.

State of conservation

The hedgehog according to the red list of the world organization (IUCN) is out of danger of extinction.

Relationship with humans

european common hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) And the white-bellied hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) are popular with humans as pets. They domesticate them in their gardens, feeding them all year long until they go into hibernation in winter.

Popular culture

The hedgehog has been present in the popular culture of various civilizations throughout history.

The classical Persians held him as a sacred animal to Ahura Mazda due to his dedication to the destruction of agricultural pests.

In ancient Greece the following saying was valued:

«El zorro conoce muchos trucos, el erizo, uno bueno» (presumiblemente su capacidad de enrollarse en una bola).

Archilochos

It has also been present in political debates, when the parliamentarian, Sir Richar Onslow compared King Charles I of England to a hedgehog.

Of course, it could not be missing in literature, for example, the main character in Beatrix Potter's 1905 children's story, the Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, is a hedgehog.

In a video game called "Sonic the Hedgehog" from 1991 the protagonist is a blue hedgehog with a humanoid shape. The character was so famous that he appeared in Sega comic strips and cartoons.

List of other interesting animals