|European hedgehog whole range|
|European hedgehog native range|
The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), or common hedgehog, is a hedgehog species found in northern and western Europe. It is a common and well-known species, and is a favourite in European gardens, both for its unique, cute appearance and its insectivorous habits.
This medium-sized mammal has a body of similar length to a large tree squirrel but is more heavily built and can weigh as much as a rabbit. It is considerably larger than the hedgehog species found in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Head-and-body length can range from 20 to 30 cm (7.9 to 12 in), with a vestigal tail adding only 1.5–3 cm (0.59–1.2 in). The adult weight typically ranges from 400 g (0.88 lb), after hibernation, to 1,200 g (2.6 lb), just prior to hibernation. The maximum recorded weight is 2,000 g (4.4 lb), though few specimens exceed 1,600 g (3.5 lb) even in autumn. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this species is probably the largest species of hedgehog and is possibly the heaviest member of the Erinaceomorpha order, although the similarly-weighted moonrat can attain a considerably greater length. Males tend to be slightly larger than females. The animal appears brownish with most of its body covered by up to 6,000 brown and white spines. In most of its range it is unlike any other creature. However, where it co-exists with the southern white-breasted hedgehog, the two species are difficult to distinguish in the field, the latter having a white spot on its chest.
Blonde hedgehogs occasionally occur. Such specimens are believed to have a rare recessive gene, giving rise to their beady, button-black eyes and creamy-coloured spines; however, they are not strictly speaking albino. They are extremely rare except on the Channel Island of Alderney where a population of around a thousand is believed.
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. It has been introduced to various European islands (e.g. Cyclades) and as an exotic species to New Zealand.
The European hedgehog is found in woodland, meadows and grassland, favouring border areas between these various habitats. Now, few hedgehogs reside in truly wild, remote regions. Instead they frequent the green edges of areas inhabited by humans. They are common in orchards, vineyards, farmland, parks and gardens, including those in urban areas. Their range extends to elevations of up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in pine zones, however they are not found above the tree line.
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 lasts from for 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, red foxes and pine martens. 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 and Eurasian eagle-owls are habitually predators of this species and may even prefer them as prey, such as on the Swedish island of Gotland. The owl, after grabbing the hedgehog by its face, tends to skin the mammal's prickly back with its talons before consumption.
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|
- ARKive Photographs and Videos.
- WildlifeOnline – Natural History of the European Hedgehog
- Hedgehog in the night
- The European Hedgehog
- View the hedgehog genome on Ensembl