|European hedgehog whole range|
|European hedgehog native range|
The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus: Linnaeus, 1758), or common hedgehog is a hedgehog species found in western Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula and Italy northwards into Scandinavia. It is a generally common and widely distributed species that can survive across a wide range of habitat types. It is a well-known species, and a favourite in European gardens, both for its endearing appearance and its preference for eating a range of garden pests. While populations are currently stable across much of its range, it is thought to be declining severely in the UK.
E. europaeus has a generalised body structure with unspecialised limb girdles. The animal appears brownish with most of its body covered by up to 6,000 brown and white spines. Length of head and body is ~160 mm (6.3 in) at weaning, increasing to 260 mm (10 in) or more in large adults. This species has an extremely short tail as an almost vestigal feature, typically 20 to 30 mm (0.79 to 1.18 in). Weight increases from around 120 g (4.2 oz) at weaning to > 1,100 g (2.4 lb) in adulthood. The maximum recorded weight is 2,000 g (4.4 lb), though few wild specimens exceed 1,600 g (3.5 lb) even in autumn. Adult summer weight is typically somewhat less than in autumn, with an average of around 800 g (1.8 lb). Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but sex differences in body weight are overshadowed by enormous seasonal variation.
E. europaeus is unlike any other creature across most of its range. Where it co-exists with the Northern white-breasted hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), the two species are difficult to distinguish in the field, the latter having a white spot on its chest. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, E. europaeus is probably the largest species of hedgehog and is possibly the heaviest member of the Erinaceomorpha order, although the moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura), similar in average mass if not known to equal to the hedgehog's maximum weight, can attain a considerably greater length.
Leucistic, or 'blonde' hedgehogs occasionally occur. Such specimens are believed to have a pair of rare recessive genes, giving rise to their black eyes and creamy-coloured spines; however, they are not strictly speaking albino. They are extremely rare, except on North Ronaldsay and the Channel Island of Alderney where around 25% of the population is thought to be blonde. True albino forms of the hedgehog do also occur infrequently.
This species is largely nocturnal. It has a hesitant gait, frequently stopping to smell the air. Unlike the smaller, warmer-climate species, the European hedgehog may hibernate in the winter. However, most wake at least once to move their nests. They are solitary in nature with mature males behaving aggressively towards each other. Occasionally a male and female may share a hibernating spot.
The European hedgehog is omnivorous, feeding mainly on invertebrates. Its diet includes slugs, earthworms, beetles, caterpillars and other insects. The preferred arthropods are the millipedes Glomeris marginata and Tachypodoiulus niger as well as the ground beetle Carabus nemoralis. It also eats grass snakes, vipers, frogs, fish, small rodents, young birds and birds' eggs. Some fruits and mushrooms may supplement the diet.
The breeding season commences after hibernation. Pregnancies peak between May and July, though they have been recorded as late as September. Gestation is 31 to 35 days. The female alone raises the litter which typically numbers between four and six, though can range from two to ten. Studies have indicated that litter size may increase in more northern climes. The young are born blind with a covering of small spines. By the time they are 36 hours old, the second, outer coat of spines begins to sprout. By 11 days they can roll into a ball. Weaning occurs at four to six weeks of age.
Longevity and mortality
European hedgehogs may live to ten years of age, although the average life expectancy is three years. Starvation is the most common cause of death, usually occurring during hibernation. If alarmed, the animal will roll into a ball to protect itself. Many potential predators are repelled by its spines, but predation does occur. Remains of hedgehogs have been found in the stomachs of European badgers (Meles meles), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and pine martens (Martes martes). A large portion of these may be from hedgehog carcasses, especially road-kill. However, hedgehogs tend to be absent from areas where badgers are numerous. Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and Eurasian eagle-owls (Bubo bubo) are the only regular avian predators of this species and may even prefer them as prey. The owl, after grabbing the hedgehog by its face, tends to skin the mammal's prickly back with its talons before consumption. In Spain, reductions of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) numbers due to rabbit haemorrhagic disease has made the European hedgehog one of the top preferred prey species for eagle-owls. On the Swedish island of Gotland the golden eagle may take larger numbers of hedgehogs than any other prey due to an otherwise low diversity of native land mammals, although the introduction of European rabbits has shifted the eagle's prey preferences there.
The European hedgehog is endemic to Europe (including European Russia), with a global distribution extending from the British Isles and the Iberian peninsula eastwards through much of western to central Europe, and from southern Fennoscandia and the northern Baltic to north-west Russia. Present also on Mediterranean islands (Corsica, Sardinia, Elba, Sicily), on most of the French Atlantic islands as well as on British Islands (autochthonous and introduced). It is an invasive exotic species in New Zealand and has probably been introduced to Ireland and many of the smaller islands where it occurs.
The European hedgehog is found across a wide range of habitat types, encompassing both semi-natural vegetation types and those areas that have been heavily modified by man. The range includes woodland, grasslands such as meadows and pasture, arable land, orchards and vineyards as well as within the matrix of habitat types found in human settlements. It prefers lowlands and hills up to 400-600m, but is also locally present on mountains, exceptionally up to and altitude of 1500-200m (e.g. Alps and Pyrénées). Outside cultivated land it prefers marginal zones of forests, particularly ecotonal grass and scrub vegetation.
Hedgehogs are most abundant within the gardens, parks and amenity land close to or within human settlements. They are generally scarce in areas of coniferous woodland, marshes and moorland, probably because of a lack of suitable sites and materials for the construction of winter nests (or hibernacula), which have specific requirements.
Generally, the hedgehog is widely distributed and can be found in good numbers where people are tolerant of their residence in gardens. To date, the IUCN classifies the species as Least Concern and currently the population as Stable. In some areas, they are common victims of road kills and may be hunted by dogs, such as in Sardinia. On 28 August 2007, the new Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) [launched in 1997] included the European hedgehog on the list of species and habitats in the UK that need conservation and greater protection.
Status in the UK
An estimate of 36.5 million by Burton was based on extrapolating up from a density of 2.5 animals/ha (one per acre), but this was based on limited data and is probably an overestimate. A more recent estimate of 1,550,000 in Great Britain (England 1,100,000, Scotland 310,000, Wales 140,000) is more reliable, but still has a high degree of uncertainty as it is based on very limited information about hedgehog density estimates for different habitat types. Given this figure, and more firmly established rates of decline, it is now thought likely that there are fewer than a million hedgehogs in Great Britain.
In 2007 the hedgehog was classified a Biodiversity Action Plan ‘priority’ species in the UK, largely in response to negative trends identified in national surveys such as Mammals on Roads survey, run by People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), that found an annual decline in counts of road casualties of around 7% from 2001 to 2004. Historic data from the National Gamebag Census suggest a steady decline between 1960 and 1980. Evidence from a questionnaire in 2005 and 2006 also supported an ongoing decline, with almost half of ~20,000 participants in PTES' Hogwatch survey reporting the impression that there were fewer hedgehogs than there were five years earlier.
A review of the available survey data for the population trend of the hedgehog in the UK was undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in a report commissioned by PTES and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS). This concluded that, at a conservative estimate, 25% of the UK hedgehog population had been lost in a decade. The report also highlighted the importance of long-term monitoring to provide datasets with sufficient power to allow the changes to the population to be identified. Currently, the most important monitoring programmes involved in collecting information about the status of the UK hedgehog population are PTES’ Mammals on Roads and Living with Mammals surveys, and the BTO Breeding Bird Survey and Garden BirdWatch survey.
This species has become a serious pest in areas where it has been introduced outside of its native range. One such location is the Western Isles of Scotland, where introduced hedgehogs eat the eggs of ground-nesting waders such as common snipe, dunlin, common redshank and northern lapwing. It is also considered a pest in New Zealand where it preys upon various native fauna.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Erinaceus europaeus.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Erinaceus europaeus|
- Hedgehog Street UK conservation campaign
- ARKive Photographs and Videos
- WildlifeOnline Natural History of the European Hedgehog
- Hedgehog in the night (photographs)
- View the hedgehog genome on Ensembl