Hedgehog, or Urchin, a small insect-eating mammal related to the mole and shrew. Of the 15 species of hedgehogs, most are found in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

HedgehogsHedgehogs are covered with dense spines.

Hedgehogs are 5 to 12 inches (13 to 30 cm) long and weigh up to 2 pounds (900 g). The stout body is covered with dense spines; the face, legs, and belly are covered with short hair. The hedgehog has a long, pointed snout, small ears, and a short tail. It hunts at night, feeding on insects, frogs, snakes, and small birds and rodents. During the day it sleeps under rocks or in burrows. Some species hibernate during the winter. Each year the female bears two litters of four to seven young. The young are born with soft, short spines that eventually harden and grow in length. When attacked, a hedgehog rolls itself into a ball with the spines facing outward. In this position, it is safe from virtually all predators.

The European hedgehog is found in forests and grasslands in Europe and northern Asia. It is dark brown. The East African hedgehog, found in arid regions of eastern Africa, is light brown.

What Do Hedgehogs Eat?

They eat lots of things. Hedgehogs feed mainly on insects, but they also eat snails, mice, birds, frogs, and lizards. Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that attack and eat bees and wasps. The stings of these insects appear to have no effect on the hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs have even been known to eat poisonous snakes. The snake’s fangs cannot penetrate the hedgehog’s sharp spines and reach its skin. The hedgehog waits until the snake gets tired in its attempts to bite it. Then the hedgehog grabs the snake and breaks its backbone. Finally, the hedgehog eats the snake—poisonous glands and all.

What Do Hedgehogs Do When There Is No Food?

In winter, food is too scarce to meet energy needs of many animals. That’s when hedgehogs go into a deep, sleeplike state called hibernation (hy buhr NAY shuhn). A hedgehog’s heart rate and all its bodily functions slow down. It gets what little energy it needs from stored body fat. The hedgehog is the only insectivore that hibernates.

Hedgehogs that live in deserts and other dry regions sometimes cannot find food in the hottest, driest part of summer. They go to sleep then, too. This warm-weather sleeplike state is called estivation (ehs tuh VAY shun). During estivation the hedgehog does not need to sleep as long or as deeply as in hibernation.

When Can a Baby Hedgehog Care for Itself?

An adult hedgehog may be able to take care of itself, but a baby hedgehog is helpless. Its eyes and ears are closed at birth. It is fully dependent on its mother.

A baby hedgehog’s first set of spines is soft and white. The spines fall out in the first two to three days of life. The next set of spines is darker and harder. After about two weeks these spines begin to fall out. Then a third, permanent set grows in. About the same time, the baby hedgehog’s eyes and ears open.

By then, the hedgehog is about a month old and is able to leave its nest and follow its mother. Before much longer it will be ready to leave the nest for good.

Do Hedgehogs Really Spit on Themselves?

Yes, hedgehogs do spit on themselves, but nobody really knows why. Hedgehogs will lick a rock or a piece of wood to start the saliva flowing. Then they swing their heads back and forth, spitting freely. Hedgehogs use their tongues to coat their spines with the spit. This startling behavior may continue for twenty minutes.

Some animal experts have ideas about the spitting. Some say the saliva the hedgehog produces may drive away predators. Others believe it attracts hedgehogs during the mating season. Still others say the saliva works against parasites (PAR uh syts)—usually ticks, fleas, or small worms—that feed on a hedgehog’s body.

How Do Hedgehogs Communicate?

Hedgehogs have several ways of expressing themselves. A content hedgehog will chirp, squeak, or whistle softly. When a hedgehog screams, it means it’s in danger or in serious pain. When a hedgehog coughs, it does not mean it’s sick. Rather, the hedgehog is sending out a warning to other animals to stay away from its territory or food source.

Watching hedgehogs in captivity shows that they also communicate with their spines. If there is a noise nearby, the hedgehog’s spines will stand up straight in the direction of the disturbance. When it raises the spines on its forehead, the hedgehog is shocked or cautious. If a hedgehog trusts a person, it keeps its spines flat and even allows that person to pet it without being harmed.

Do Hedgehogs Make Good Pets?

You may be surprised to know that the answer is yes. Hedgehogs can be tamed easily and can be as enjoyable as pets as dogs or cats. A pet hedgehog can even be trained to stand on its hind legs.

Another good reason for having a pet hedgehog could be pest control. Hedgehogs can help keep houses and gardens free of bothersome insects and other pests.

Hedgehogs belong to the family Erinaceidae. The European hedgehog is Erinaceus europaeus; East African, E. albiventris.