A hedgehog is any of the spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae, in the Eulipotyphlan family Erinaceidae. There are seventeen species of hedgehog in five genera, found through parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and in New Zealand by introduction. There are no hedgehogs native to Australia, and no living species native to the Americas. Here are a few facts about hedgehogs.
- Hedgehogs are nocturnal. That means they sleep during the day and are awake at night. In one night a hedgehog can walk two miles or more.
- Prickles!! Grown up hedgehogs have about 7000 prickles. The prickles are made of keratin, the same as your fingernails and toenails. When baby hedgehogs are born, their prickles are under their skin. To protect themselves from predators, hedgehogs roll into a ball and stick up their prickles. Their spines are not poisonous or barbed and, unlike the quills of a porcupine, do not easily detach from their bodies. However the immature animal's spines normally fall out as they are replaced with adult spines. This is called "quilling".
- What's on the menu? Hedgehogs love slugs, snails and worms, they will also eat beetles, frogs and even small newts. If you want to feed a hedgehog which is visiting your garden, give it dog food or meaty cat food and water. Don’t give it milk and bread (this will give it an upset tummy).
- Hedgehogs hibernate, which means they sleep through the winter from November until April. Before this they eat as much as possible, to make sure that they have lots of fat. This fat keeps them fed whilst they are sleeping through the winter.
How can you help?
There are lots of easy things you can do to help hedgehogs at school or in your own garden. You could show this information to your teacher or your parents.
- Keep a quiet corner of your garden a little bit wild. Add piles of sticks and leaves. These are things hedgehogs can use to make a hibernation nest. You can also make or buy a hedgehog house to put in your garden.
- Ask adults not to use slug pellets in the garden as these can make hedgehogs very poorly. Also clear up rubbish because sometimes this can harm hedgehogs.
- Make sure there is a gap under your fence so that hedgehogs can get in and out because they like to walk long distances at night.
- Hedgehogs are good swimmers. If you have a pond, all you need is a slope so that they can easily get out.
- If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog hibernating in your garden or in your school grounds, don’t disturb it, because it might run away from its warm nest.
- If adults are lighting a bonfire, always ask them to check that there isn’t a hedgehog underneath before they start.
- Hedgehogs are nocturnal. If you see one out in the day, it might be in trouble. Get a grown up to contact one of the hedgehog groups below for advice. You should never pick up a hedgehog, unless it is in immediate danger and even then always ask a grown up to do it (with gloves).
All the websites below give you lots more information and advice about hedgehogs: