FAQ - What is a hedgehog?

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Always into something...
Jan 28, 2009
Bowling Green, KY
Written by jandshyne:

What is a Hedgehog?

Hedgehogs are an insectivorous animal found in many areas throughout the world. There are several species of hedgehog and they are native to most regions of the world. They have been successfully introduced to some habitats they weren’t originally native to. In some areas of the world they are seen as a pest, in others they are seen as a great insect repellant, and in some they are not given much consideration at all. In most countries the native species are now protected from exportation. In the past year or so the US pet market has begun exporting some captive bred hedgehogs to countries like Europe, and Japan but these are captive bred species not wild. Original US hedgehog importation was believed to have begun in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They were wild caught and shipped in directly for the pet market and pet stores. In the early days they could be sold for up to $1000 and we did not have near the range of colors and temperaments we do now. Once they became more prominent and pet owners in the US began breeding those prices rapidly declined and now they are sold for between $100 and $200 depending on the region. Selective breeding has provided us a large array of color combinations. For a color chart including pictures please see Hedgehog Central.

Hedgehog species all differ in small degrees, some by size, some by toe number, some by coloring, etc… The hedgehogs found commonly in the US now are believed to be a cross between the White Bellied Hedgehog and the Algerian Hedgehog species. They are most commonly referred to as African Pygmy Hedgehogs although there is truly no such species and the “pygmy” portion is believed to have been added by breeders throughout the years. In Europe there are organizations developed with preservation in mind. Hedgehogs have a wonderful natural defense system in their spines but they are not without their vulnerabilities. They are frequently run over by cars in Europe as they wander in to the road in search of food. Natural predators are believed to be birds of prey, some species of wild dogs, and humans. When approached by a predator they will roll themselves tightly in to a ball and leave only their prickly spines visible and vulnerable. They also make a myriad of threatening noises such as hissing and popping commonly referred to by US pet people as “huffing”. If a predator is determined enough to get through the quills the hedgehogs are vulnerable at the soft underbelly and the face. Their spines or quills are short and blunt with a fairly sharp tip. They are NOT related to the porcupine. Their quills are not near as sharp as those of porcupines and they do not release the quills in to a predator when threatened. I like to explain their quills as being similar to a stiff bristled hair brush. If they are determined enough they will poke you and can draw blood but they aren’t necessarily sharp. They are covered by hundreds of quills along the spine, sides, and forehead. The “visor” or forehead quills are the sharpest quills they have and they often ram threatening predators or human hands. Even the most even tempered hedgehog will lower their visor if threatened or may even keep it lowered during handling by humans.

In the wild hedgehogs are most vulnerable when they are awakening from hibernation. Many do not survive this, whether they fall victim to predators or illness. It is not fully understood why hedgehogs hibernate. In some regions such as the UK it is believed temperature plays a part in their hibernation rituals but in desert areas such as parts of Africa it is believed to have more to do with water or food sources becoming scarce. In captivity hibernation often means death. They do not have the ability to build up the amount of food and fat stores required to successfully hibernate in captivity and often times a hibernation attempt will kill them or weaken them to the point an infection is able to take hold.

As mentioned above hedgehogs are insectivores. In their native environments their diet consists mostly of insects although it has been discovered they will eat most anything, small animals, snakes, bird eggs, fruits, berries, vegetables, etc... they have adapted like many other species to the loss of their natural habitat to human development. They are a burrowing animal and largely nocturnal though people have observed several in captivity that stray from their nocturnal urges. In their native environment they sleep during the day and forage for insects at night but they are actually classified as diurnal meaning they are awake some during the day and some during the night. Their snout is elongated for searching out insects in the foliage and dirt. Their teeth are sharp and the top incisors are quite elongated. They tend to overlap or cross with the bottom, it is believed this is how they trap prey that is larger than them or break through bones of small animals or shelled insects and maintain their grip.

Hedgehogs are a very curious, even tempered animal. They are believed to be mostly solitary creatures and we certainly see that preference in captive bred hedgehogs. Female hedgehogs are induced ovulators meaning they ovulate when they are in the presence of a male hedgehog only. They do not have a “cycle” so to speak. Some people believe this is no the case and that they actually do have a silent cycle but many breeders and owners believe they are truly induced ovulators only. In the wild they tend to ignore other hedgehogs unless they happen upon a member of the opposite sex and they will mate and then go their separate ways leaving the mother to care for her offspring. Hedgehog litters can be as small as 1 or as big as 10. The gestation period of a hedgehog is 35 days.

Hedgehogs date back to prehistoric times and are believed to be one of the oldest species of animal still roaming the earth.
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