Just for Fun: Presenting A Properly Prickly Creature Feature To Celebrate Hedgehog Week
It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week, which aims to promote the problems faced by our hedgehog population. We’re celebrating with some of our favourite facts about our prickly neighbours and ways to help them at home.
Fascinating Facts About Hedgehogs
- At around 15 million years old, hedgehogs are one of the oldest mammals. They are very distantly related to moles and shrews but developed along their own evolutionary line.
- 17 hedgehog species exist across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Our hedgehogs are from the European species Erinaceus europaeus, which were also introduced to New Zealand.
- “Hedgehog”, first used in 1450, comes from Middle English heyghoge, based on their habitat (heyg/hedge) and piglike snout (hoge/hog). Other names include hedgepigs, furze-pigs (furze means gorse), and urchins (sea urchins are named after hedgehogs!).
- Many of Shakespeare’s works mention hedgehogs, including The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, and Venus and Adonis.
- European hedgehogs are the largest hedgehogs at 20-30cm long. They have a small tail (2-3cm) and long legs (10cm) and run about as fast as humans walk. Their front feet are shorter and broader than their back feet with claws well suited to digging.
- Hedgehog spines are modified hairs made of keratin. At birth, they have fewer than 200 spines concealed under their skin. These spines drop out during quilling to be replaced by 5000-7000 adult spines. When hedgehogs roll into a ball, powerful muscles across their back raise their spines into protective positions. While usually brown, blonde hedgehogs exist on Alderney and North Ronaldsay.
- Hedgehogs have poor eyesight, seeing best at night, but relying on hearing and smell. They can travel 2 miles a night searching for food. Long snouts help them forage and they are omnivorous, eating animals (usually insects) and plants, like mushrooms, roots, and berries.
- Hedgehogs build nests using plant debris like grass, twigs, and leaves. They can be 50cm thick and are usually built under hedges or bushes, along with tree roots, woodpiles, compost heaps, rabbit burrows, or gaps beneath timber buildings like sheds. Nests for hibernation are called hibernacula.
- Hedgehogs hibernate based on age, temperature, and food scarcity. They drop their temperature (as low as 2 °C), heart rate (to 20 beats per minute), and respiration (breathing once every few minutes). Hibernation lasts from November-January until March-April.
- Hedgehogs lead solitary lives; a group of hedgehogs (if you can find one!) is called an array. Female hedgehogs raise their young alone, giving birth around May-July with 2-6 young (or hoglets) per litter. Hedgehogs live around 3 years; the oldest wild hedgehog recorded reached 16 years old.
- Hedgehogs perform a ritual called “anointing” when they encounter new smells (often from toxic or poisonous sources). They bite and lick the source, forming a scented froth in their mouths, which they paste onto their spines with their tongues. This could be scent camouflage or to make their spines more dangerous to predators. Hedgehogs also have some natural immunity against snake venom.
- Ancient Persians considered hedgehogs sacred because they destroyed agricultural pests, while ancient Egyptians depicted them on amulets and tombs. They feature in European folk tales and creation stories. Farmers once claimed hedgehogs steal milk from cows (unlikely as they are lactose intolerant!) and eggs (they might take eggs that are already cracked). Hedgehogs have also been called witches’ familiars and witches in disguise. Today they enjoy a better reputation as a gardener’s friend and star of one of Beatrix Potter’s most famous tales.
Ways to Help Hedgehogs
Hedgehog numbers have fallen rapidly. Here are a few things you can do at home to help.
- Make your garden hedgehog friendly
Add a hedgehog house for nesting and hibernating. Make a feeding station with water in a shallow dish (NOT milk) and hedgehog food or meaty dog/cat food or cat biscuits. Create a hedgehog highway by making a small gap (13cm square) in your garden wall or fence for hedgehogs to get in and out.
- Make your garden hedgehog safe
Avoid chemical lawn treatments, pesticides, or poisons, which harm hedgehogs and their food. Cover drains/holes and add sloping edges or half submerged rocks as escape routes from ponds. Keep netting off the ground, tying up sports nets or storing them when not in use. Check for hedgehogs before using lawn mowers/electric strimmers/garden forks, using compost, and lighting bonfires. Dispose of rubbish carefully and keep bins securely closed. Break up plastic or polystyrene pots/cups, crush tins, and cut up rubber bands and four-pack/six-pack rings.
- Make your garden useful for hedgehogs
Let some plants grow wild to create a corner where hedgehogs can find food, shelter, and nesting materials. Compost heaps attract insects and provide a safe nesting space.
- Know how to handle hedgehogs safely and responsibly
Do not move or handle hedgehogs unless absolutely necessary and contact a local wildlife organisation for advice.
A hedgehog that is still, surrounded by flies, lethargic, or wobbly may need help. Use gardening gloves or a folded towel to place it in a high sided cardboard or plastic box. Move to a quiet place indoors. Wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and place the hedgehog on it with another towel on top. Offer small amounts of suitable food and water. If the hedgehog is particularly small, and could be a baby or juvenile, check for other hoglets or a nest nearby before moving it.
Need Name Labels For Your Little Hoglets? Check Out Stikins Name Labels!
Our stick on name labels work on fabric items like school uniform and clothing as well as other personal belongings. Made with a unique adhesive our name labels simply stick on and stay on. Each label is bright white in colour and personalised with a bold, black font.
We supply Stikins in four pack sizes of 30, 60, 90, or 120 name labels. You can order online or by phone. Simply let us know the names and pack sizes you want, where to send them, and make payment. It’s that simple!
We print and post name labels Monday to Friday, up to 3pm. This means we offer same day despatch for all orders placed by 3pm during the working week. We despatch orders placed after 3pm or over the weekend on the next working day.
Standard delivery uses Royal Mail’s first class service and is free. If you need your name labels quickly, you can upgrade to our guaranteed next day delivery service for £6.30.