European hedgehog

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European hedgehog[1]
Erinaceus europaeus (Linnaeus, 1758).jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Erinaceomorpha
Family: Erinaceidae
Subfamily: Erinaceinae
Genus: Erinaceus
Species: E. europaeus
Binomial name
Erinaceus europaeus
Linnaeus, 1758
European Hedgehog distribution.png
European hedgehog whole range
European Hedgehog area2.png
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.[3] It is a generally common and widely distributed species that can survive across a wide range of habitat types. It is also a well-known species, and is a favourite in European gardens, both for its endearing appearance and insectivorous habits. Whilst populations are currently stable across much of its range, it is thought to be declining severely in the UK.[4][5]

Description[edit]

Skeleton

E. europaeus has a generalised body structure with unspecialised limb girdles.[6] The animal appears brownish with most of its body covered by up to 6,000 brown and white spines.[7] Length of head and body is ~160 mm at weaning, increasing to 260mm or more in large adults. Has a short tail, typically 20-30mm.[8] Weight increases from around 120g at weaning to > 1100g 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.[9] Adult summer weight is typically around 800g.[10] Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but sex differences in body weight are overshadowed by enormous seasonal variation.[8]

E. europaeus is unlike any other creature across most of its range. Where it co-exists with the Northern white-breasted hedgehog, the two species are difficult to distinguish in the field, the latter having a white spot on its chest.(Erinaceus roumanicus)[11] 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.[12]

Colour variation[edit]

Blonde hedgehog

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.[13] True albino forms of the hedgehog do also occur infrequently.[7]

Behaviour[edit]

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.

Diet[edit]

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.[14] It also eats grass snakes, vipers, frogs, fish, small rodents, young birds and birds' eggs. Some fruits and mushrooms may supplement the diet.

Breeding[edit]

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[edit]

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.[15]

Distribution[edit]

European hedgehog (Azerbaijan).

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).[16] 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.[17]

Habitat[edit]

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).[18] Outside cultivated land it prefers marginal zones of forests, particularly ecotonal grass and scrub vegetation.[19]

Hedgehogs are most abundant within the gardens, parks and amenity land close to or within human settlements.[20] They are generally scarce in areas of coniferous woodland, mashes and moorland, probably because of a lack of suitable sites and materials for the construction of winter nests (or hibernacula), which have specific requirements.[7]

Protection[edit]

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.[2] 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.[21][22]

In Denmark[23] and Poland,[24] hedgehogs are protected by law. It is illegal to capture or hurt them, but it is accepted to house underweight hedgehogs found out during winter.

A low coverage assembly of the genome of Erinaceus europaeus was released by the Broad Institute in June 2006 as part of the Mammalian Genome Project.[25]

Status in the UK[edit]

Population size[edit]

An estimate of 36.5 million by Burton[26] 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[27] (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.[3] Given this figure, and more firmly established rates of decline,[5] it is now thought likely that there are fewer than a million hedgehogs in Great Britain.[28]

Population status[edit]

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,[29] 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.[30][31] Historic data from the National Gamebag Census suggest a steady decline between 1960 and 1980.[32] Evidence from a questionnaire in 2005 and 2006 also supported an ongoing decline, with almost half of ~20,000 participants in PTES' Hogwatch survey[33] reporting the impression that there were fewer hedgehogs than there were five years earlier.[34]

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).[5] This concluded that, at a conservative estimate, 25% of the UK hedgehog population had been lost in a decade.[35]  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.[36]

Pest status[edit]

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.[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hutterer, R. (2005). "Order Erinaceomorpha". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ a b Amori, G., Hutterer, R., Kryštufek, B., Yigit, N., Mitsain, G. & Muñoz, L. J. P. (2008). "Erinaceus europaeus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Harris, S. & Yalden, D.W. (2008) Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th Edition, The Mammal Society, Southampton.
  4. ^ IUCN 'red list' Erinaceus europaeus
  5. ^ a b c Roos, S., Johnston, A. and Noble, D. (2012) UK hedgehog datasets and their potential for long-term monitoring. BTO Research Report No. 598.
  6. ^ Reeve, N. J. (1994) Hedgehogs. T & AD Poyser Ltd., London. p7
  7. ^ a b c Morris, P. A. (2006) The New Hedgehog Book. Whittet Books, London.
  8. ^ a b Harris, S. & Yalden, D.W. (2008). Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th edition. Mammal Society, Southampton. pp241-249.
  9. ^ Reeve, N. J. (1994) Hedgehogs. T & AD Poyser Ltd., London. p16
  10. ^ Dickman, C. R. (1988) Age-related dietary change in European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus. Journal of Zoology 215, 1-14.
  11. ^ IUCN 'red list' Erinaceus roumanicus
  12. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9. 
  13. ^ Morris, P. A. & Tutt, A. (1996) Leucistic hedgehogs on the island of Alderney. Journal of Zoology, 239, 387-389.
  14. ^ B. Lundrigan & J. Bidlingmeyer (2000). "Erinaceus europaeus: European hedgehog". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan. 
  15. ^ Owls of the World by Konig, Weick & Becking. Yale University Press (2009), ISBN 0300142277
  16. ^ Mitchell-Jones, A.J.; Amori, G.; Bogdanowicz, W.; Krystufek, B.; Reijnders, P.J.H.; Spitzenberger, F.; Stubbe, M.; Thissen, J.B.M.; Vohralik, V.; Zima, J. (1999) The atlas of European mammals, Poyser London.
  17. ^ Harris, S. & Yalden, D.W. (2008). Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th edition. Mammal Society, Southampton. pp38-39
  18. ^ Mitchell-Jones, A.J.; Amori, G.; Bogdanowicz, W.; Krystufek, B.; Reijnders, P.J.H.; Spitzenberger, F.; Stubbe, M.; Thissen, J.B.M.; Vohralik, V.; Zima, J. (1999) The atlas of European mammals, Poyser London. pp38-39.
  19. ^ • Mitchell-Jones, A.J.; Amori, G.; Bogdanowicz, W.; Krystufek, B.; Reijnders, P.J.H.; Spitzenberger, F.; Stubbe, M.; Thissen, J.B.M.; Vohralik, V.; Zima, J. (1999) The atlas of European mammals, Poyser London. pp38-39.
  20. ^ Young R. P., Davison J., Trewby I. D., Wilson G. J., Delahay R. J. and Doncaster C. P. (2006) Abundance of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in relation to the density and distribution of badgers (Meles meles). Journal of Zoology 269: 349-356.
  21. ^ Hedgehogs join 'protection' list. BBC News (2007-08-27). Retrieved on 2012-12-29.
  22. ^ UK List of Priority Species. Biodiversity Action Plan. ukbap.org.uk
  23. ^ Pindsvin. The Forest and Nature Department of DenMark
  24. ^ Dz.U. 2004 nr 220 poz. 2237. Internetowy System Aktów Prawnych. Isap.sejm.gov.pl (in Polish). Retrieved on 2012-12-29.
  25. ^ "Hedgehog". Ensembl Genome Browser. Retrieved 11 June 2007. 
  26. ^ Burton, M. (1969) The Hedgehog: A Survival Book on Hedgehogs. London. Andre Deutsch.
  27. ^ Harris, S., Morris, P., Wray, S. and Yalden, D. (1995) A review of British mammals: population estimates and conservation status of British mammals other than cetaceans. JNCC, Peterborough. 
  28. ^ Vaughan, Adam (29 January 2013) "Hedgehog population in dramatic decline" Guardian Online Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  29. ^ Mammals on Roads survey, PTES: more information.
  30. ^ Bright, P., George, L. and Balmforth, Z. (2005) Mammals on Roads: development and testing the use of road counts to monitor abundance (draft v. 9). A report to PTES/JNCC.
  31. ^ JNCC 'priority' species pages: Erinaceus europaeus.
  32. ^ Tapper, S. (1992) An Ecological Review from Shooting and Gamekeeping Records. Game Heritage. Game Conservancy Ltd.
  33. ^ HogwatchSurvey Report, PTES and BHPS.
  34. ^ Hof, A. R. (2009) A study of the current status of the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) and its decline in Great Britain since 1960. PhD. Royal Holloway, University of London. Egham, Surrey, TW20 0EX, UK.
  35. ^ Wembridge, D. (2011) The State of Britain's Hedgehogs. A PTES & BHPS publication.
  36. ^ Battersby, J. (2005) UK Mammals: Species Status and Population Trends. A report by the Tracking Mammals Partnership No. 1, JNCC/Tracking Mammals Partnership, Peterborough.
  37. ^ King, Carolyn (1985). Immigrant Killers: Introduced Predators and the Conservation of Birds in New Zealand. Auckland: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-558115-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mammals of Europe by David W. Macdonald & Priscilla Barrett. Princeton University Press (1993), ISBN 0-691-09160-9.
  • The New Hedgehog Book by Pat Morris (2006), Whittet Books, London.
  • Hedgehogs by Nigel Reeve (1994), Poyser Natural History, ISBN 0-85661-081-X.

External links[edit]