Who can resist the hedgehog, so pointy, but so huggable! Why do we love them so much? Their cousins in the shrew family don’t inspire the same silly grins.
Maybe it’s their roly-poly bodies, their bright black eyes, and their winsome little noses? Despite their spikes, they are often domesticated as pets, and they often pop up in movies, books and even video games. Still, there’s plenty you might not know about these prickly little buddies, so read on to learn some fun facts about hedgehogs!
Where There’s a Shrub, There’s a Way
The English name for “hedgehog” gives a clue to where you might find them in Great Britain. Snuffling among the hedgerows, they do look a bit like bristly piglets. However, hedgehogs are found all over the world, throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.
Invasion of Cuteness
Hedgehogs have even spread beyond their natural habitats, taking up residence in islands where they have no natural predators such as New Zealand and islands off the coast of Scotland (this technically makes them an “invasive species” but who could stay mad at that little face?)
Spines of Fury
There are seventeen different species of hedgehog in the world, and all of them are delightful. Some hedgehog species are a little feistier than others, however. For example, the long-eared (or Egyptian) hedgehog uses its quills differently. Instead of rolling up into a ball, it flings itself at would-be predators like a furious pincushion.
A Challenging Beginning
Have you ever wondered how baby hedgehogs are born? Mammalian reproduction is tough enough without involving spikes, but nature has done mother hedgehogs a favor: the newborns come into the world with a little layer covering their spikes. Phew.
Hoglets in a Nutshell
Speaking of baby hedgehogs, the correct term for them is “hoglets.” Newborn hoglets are about the size of a penny, and they stay in their nest to nurse and grow for three or four weeks before they are ready to emerge. Once out of the nest, hoglets spend about ten days following their mother and learning to forage for themselves. Then they begin life as independent hedgehogs in their own right.
What do hedgehogs eat? Although hedgehogs were long assumed to be insectivores, a careful study revealed that the hedgehog eats quite a variety of foods, including berries, mushrooms and grass roots, with insects, snails, frogs, toads, snakes, eggs and even carrion for protein.
Predators and Perils
Speaking of hedgehogs and food, hedgehogs are a food source for other species too. Predators of the hedgehog include eagles, owls, badgers, and other local carnivores. Smaller meat-eaters such as foxes, ferrets and cats don’t contend well with full-sized hedgehogs but they can sometimes manage to catch a hoglet.
You may be surprised to learn that some people eat hedgehogs too. Some recipes from the Late Middle Ages in Europe call for hedgehog. The Romani people include hedgehogs in their diet, and roadside foragers will prepare hedgehog meat if it’s fresh.
A Crunchy Controversy
In 1981, Hedgehog Food Ltd. introduced a potato chip called “Hedgehog Flavour Crisps,” inviting customers to “savour the flavour of traditional country fare cooked the old fashioned way.” The chips were distributed throughout Britain and even Canada in the 1980s, but the company ran into trouble when the Office of Fair Trading charged them with “false advertising” as the chips’ ingredients contained no actual hedgehogs. The charge was dismissed when Hedgehog Foods invited Romani people to taste the chips and verify that they did indeed taste like hedgehog (though the name of the product was changed to “Hedgehog Flavoured Crisps” just to be on the safe side.)
Hedgehogs and Their Timeless Appeal
It’s not hard to find depictions of hedgehogs in modern entertainment, from Beatrix Potter’s “Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle” to Mr. Pricklepants in “Toy Story 3” (2010) and of course, who could forget Sonic the Hedgehog. Surprisingly, you might also come across them on display in a museum, dating back thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians created playful hedgehog sculptures as vessels, amulets, toys and even cosmetic containers.
In addition to their formidable spikes (made of hard layers of keratin), hedgehogs have an extra layer of defense: they are one of the few species of mammals to evolve a natural resistance to snake venom. In fact, some species of hedgehogs regularly make a meal out of a venomous would-be predator.
A few animals across the animal kingdom have also evolved quills as part of their defenses. Porcupines, for example, are commonly confused with hedgehogs, but the “lesser hedgehog tenrec” is another unrelated species that looks even more like a hedgehog’s long-lost twin.
Spikes in Translation
Outside of the English-speaking world, the hedgehog goes by other names, many of them delightfully descriptive. In Latin, the word for hedgehog translates to “urchin,” noting its resemblance to the spiny sea creature. In Italian, hedgehogs are “frizzy,” and the Arab name refers to its ability to “roll up.” The Irish name is probably the least affectionate, roughly translated as “Little Ugly One” (we beg to differ!)
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