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This article is about the spiny mammal. For other uses, see Hedgehog (disambiguation).
European hedgehog
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Eulipotyphla
Family: Erinaceidae
Subfamily: Erinaceinae
G. Fischer, 1814

A hedgehog is any of the spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae, in the order Eulipotyphla. There are seventeen species of hedgehog in five genera, found through parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and in New Zealand by introduction. There are no hedgehogs native to Australia, and no living species native to the Americas (the extinct genus Amphechinus was once present in North America). Hedgehogs share distant ancestry with shrews (family Soricidae), with gymnures possibly being the intermediate link, and have changed little over the last 15 million years.[2] Like many of the first mammals, they have adapted to a nocturnal way of life.[3] Hedgehogs' spiny protection resembles that of the unrelated rodent porcupines and monotreme echidnas.

The name hedgehog came into use around the mid 15th century (they were earlier known as igls[citation needed]). "Hedge" refers to its usual habitat, the hedgerow, while "hog" refers to its piglike snout,[4] and the snuffling noise it makes whilst foraging. Other names include urchin, hedgepig and furze-pig. The collective noun for a group of hedgehogs is array or prickle.

Physical description[edit]

Hedgehogs are easily recognized by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin.[5] Their spines are not poisonous or barbed and unlike the quills of a porcupine, do not easily detach from their bodies. However, the immature animal's spines normally fall out as they are replaced with adult spines. This is called "quilling". Spines can also shed when the animal is diseased or under extreme stress.

Hedgehog skeleton
Close-up of the last 5 mm of a hedgehog spine (SEM microscopy)
A skin-skeletal preparation
Close-up of the last 0.4 mm of a hedgehog spine in SEM

A defense that all species of hedgehogs possess is the ability to roll into a tight ball, causing all of the spines to point outwards.[5] Since the effectiveness of this strategy depends on the number of spines, some desert hedgehogs that evolved to carry less weight are more likely to flee or even attack, ramming an intruder with the spines; rolling into a spiny ball is for those species a last resort. The various species are prey to different predators: while forest hedgehogs are prey primarily to birds (especially owls) and ferrets, smaller species like the long-eared hedgehog are prey to foxes, wolves and mongooses.

Hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, though some species can also be active during the day. Hedgehogs sleep for a large portion of the day under bush, grass, or rock, or most often in dens dug in the ground, with varying habits among the species. All wild hedgehogs can hibernate, though not all do, depending on temperature, species, and abundance of food.

The hedgehog's back contains two large muscles that control the position of the quills. The average hedgehog has about 5,000 to 6,500 quills that are strong on the outer surface but filled with air pockets on the inside. When the creature is rolled into a ball, the quills on the back protect the tucked head, feet, and belly, which are not quilled. This is the hedgehog's last but most successful form of defense.

Hedgehogs are fairly vocal and communicate through a combination of grunts, snuffles and/or squeals, depending on species.


Hedgehogs occasionally perform a ritual called anointing. When the animal encounters a new scent, it will lick and bite the source, then form a scented froth in its mouth and paste it on its spines with its tongue. The purpose of this habit is unknown, but some experts believe anointing camouflages the hedgehog with the new scent of the area and provides a possible poison or source of infection to predators poked by their spines. Anointing is sometimes also called anting because of a similar behavior in birds.

Like opossums, mice, and moles, hedgehogs have some natural immunity against snake venom through the protein erinacin in the animal's muscular system, although it is only available in small amounts and a viper bite may still be fatal.[6] In addition, hedgehogs are one of four known mammalian groups with mutations that protect against another snake venom, α-neurotoxin. Pigs, honey badgers, mongooses, and hedgehogs all have mutations in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor that prevent the snake venom α-neurotoxin from binding, though those mutations developed separately and independently.[7]

Olfactory Sense[edit]

The olfactory regions have not been thoroughly studied in the Hedgehog. In mammals, the olfactory parts of the brain, it is covered by neopallium therefore making it difficult to expose, this difficulty is not impossible, as it varies from one species to another. Tests have suggested that Hedgehogs share the same electrical activity as cats.[8]


Although traditionally classified in the now abandoned order Insectivora, hedgehogs are omnivorous. They feed on insects, snails, frogs and toads, snakes, bird eggs, carrion, mushrooms, grass roots, berries, melons and watermelons.[5] Berries constitute a major part of an Afghan hedgehog's diet in early spring after hibernation.


During hibernation, the body temperature of a hedgehog can decrease to about 2°C. When the animal awakes from hibernation, the body temperature rises from 2-5°C back to its normal 30-35°C body temperature.[9]

Reproduction and lifespan[edit]

A foraging European hedgehog

Depending on the species, the gestation period is 35–58 days. The average litter is 3–4 newborns for larger species and 5–6 for smaller ones. As with many animals, it is not unusual for an adult male hedgehog to kill newborn males.

Hedgehogs have a relatively long lifespan for their size. Larger species of hedgehogs live 4–7 years in the wild (some have been recorded up to 16 years), and smaller species live 2–4 years (4–7 in captivity), compared to a mouse at 2 years and a large rat at 3–5 years. Lack of predators and controlled diet contribute to a longer lifespan in captivity (8–10 years depending on size).

Hedgehogs are born blind with a protective membrane covering their quills, which dries and shrinks over the next several hours.[10] The quills emerge through the skin after they have been cleaned, or it falls off.[11]


Hedgehog bones have been found in the pellets of the European eagle owl.[12]

In Britain, the main predator is the badger. Hedgehogs in the UK have demonstrably[13] lower populations in areas where badgers are numerous, so that British hedgehog rescue societies will not release hedgehogs into known badger territories.[14]

Domesticated hedgehogs[edit]

Main article: Domesticated hedgehog

The most common pet species of hedgehog are hybrids of the white-bellied hedgehog or four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) and the North African hedgehog (A. algirus). It is smaller than the European hedgehog, and thus is sometimes called the African pygmy hedgehog. Other species kept as pets are the long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus) and the Indian long-eared hedgehog (H. collaris).

It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in some US states and some Canadian municipalities, and breeding licenses are required. No such restrictions exist in most European countries with the exception of Scandinavia. In the UK wild hedgehogs are considered endangered and it is illegal to keep one as a pet.[15] In Italy it is illegal to keep wild hedgehogs as pets.[16]

Invasive species[edit]

In areas where hedgehogs have been introduced, such as New Zealand and the islands of Scotland, the hedgehog has become a pest. In New Zealand it causes immense damage to native species including insects, snails, lizards and ground-nesting birds, particularly shore birds.[17] As with many introduced animals, it lacks natural predators.

Eradication can be troublesome. Attempts to eliminate hedgehogs from bird colonies on the Scottish islands of North Uist and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides were met with international outrage. Eradication began in 2003 with 690 hedgehogs being killed. Animal welfare groups attempted rescues to save the hedgehogs. By 2007, legal injunctions against the killing of hedgehogs were put in place. In 2008, the elimination process was changed from killing the hedgehogs to trapping them and releasing them on the mainland.[18]


Hedgehogs suffer many diseases common to humans.[19] These include cancer, fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.

Cancer is very common in hedgehogs. The most common is squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell spreads quickly from the bone to the organs in hedgehogs, unlike in humans. Surgery to remove the tumors is rare because it would result in removing too much bone structure.

Fatty liver disease is believed by many to be caused by bad diet. Hedgehogs will eagerly eat foods that are high in fat and sugar. Having a metabolism adapted for low-fat, protein-rich insects, this leads to common problems of obesity. Fatty liver disease is one sign, heart disease is another.

Hedgehogs uncommonly transmit a characteristic fungal skin infection to human handlers as well as other hedgehogs. This ringworm or dermatophytosis infection is caused by Trichophyton erinacei, which forms a distinct mating group within the Arthroderma benhamiae species complex.[20]

Human influence[edit]

A European hedgehog found in Ireland.

As with most small mammals living around humans, cars pose a great threat to hedgehogs. Many are run over as they attempt to cross roadways.

European hedgehog

In Europe, Hedgehogs are one of the most common mammalian road fatalities. Between the years of April 2008 and November 2010 and a total of 50,430 km, there were 133 hedgehog fatalities. Of the 135 hedgehog carcasses collected from throughout Ireland, there was significantly more males than females collected, with peaks in male deaths occurring in May and June. Female deaths only outnumbered males in August, with further peaks in female deaths observed in June and July. It is suggested that these peaks are related to the breeding season (adults) and dispersal/exploration following independence.[21]

In 2006, McDonald's changed the design of their McFlurry containers to be more hedgehog-friendly.[22] Previously, hedgehogs would get their heads stuck in the container as they tried to lick the remaining food from inside the cup. Then, being unable to get out, they would starve to death. Domesticated hedgehogs display this behavior by getting their head stuck in tubes (commonly, lavatory paper tubes) and walking around with the tube on their head. Hedgehog owners often refer to this as "tubing" and promote the behavior by supplying clean tubes. Most owners are considerate enough, however, to cut the tubes lengthwise so as to prevent the hedgehog from remaining trapped against their will. Curiously though, some will still knowingly get themselves stuck for a few hours.[23]

Culinary and medicinal use[edit]

Hedgehogs are a food source in many cultures. Hedgehogs were eaten in Ancient Egypt and some recipes of the Late Middle Ages call for hedgehog meat.[24] Hedgehogs are traded throughout Eurasia and Africa for traditional medicine and witchcraft. In the Middle East and especially among Bedouins, hedgehog meat is considered medicinal, and thought to cure rheumatism and arthritis.[25] They are also said to cure a variety of illnesses and disorders from tuberculosis to impotence. In Morocco, inhaling the smoke of the burnt skin or bristles is a purported remedy for fever, male impotence, and urinary illnesses. The blood is sold as a cure for ringworm, cracked skin and warts and the flesh is eaten as a remedy for witchcraft.[26] Romani people still eat hedgehogs, boiled or roasted, and also use the blood and the fat for its supposed medicinal value.[27] During the 1980s, "hedgehog-flavour" crisps were introduced in Britain, although the product did not contain any hedgehog.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

Sir Richard Onslow (1601–1664), parliamentarian, compared King Charles I of England to a hedgehog.[29][30]

Genera and species[edit]

An urban European hedgehog out foraging at night.

Subfamily Erinaceinae (Hedgehogs)[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hutterer, R. (2005). "Order Erinaceomorpha". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 212–217. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Reiter C, Gould GC (1998). "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Hedgehog". Natural History 107 (6): 52. 
  3. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-02-28. 
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Online edition. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  5. ^ a b c Attenborough, David (2014). Attenborough's Natural Curiosities 2. Armoured Animals. UKTV. 
  6. ^ Omori-Satoha, Tamotsu; Yoshio Yamakawab; Dietrich Mebs (November 2000). "The antihemorrhagic factor, erinacin, from the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), a metalloprotease inhibitor of large molecular size possessing ficolin/opsonin P35 lectin domains". Toxicon 38 (11): 1561–80. doi:10.1016/S0041-0101(00)00090-8. PMID 10775756. 
  7. ^ Drabeck, D.H.; Dean, A.M.; Jansa, S.A. (June 1, 2015). "Why the honey badger don't care: Convergent evolution of venom-targeted nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in mammals that survive venomous snake bites.". Toxicon (Elsevier) 99: 68. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2015.03.007. 
  8. ^ Adrian. "Olfactory reactions in the brain of the hedgehog". 
  9. ^ Suomalainen, Paavo; Sarajas, Samuli (1951-08-01). "Heart-beat of the Hibernating Hedgehog". Nature 168: 211. doi:10.1038/168211b0. ISSN 0028-0836. 
  10. ^ Litter – Burlington and MIDI (04/19/2004).
  11. ^ "The Hedghogz Home Page – Babies & Reproduction". Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  12. ^ Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning: West European Hedgehog. wildlifeinformation.or
  13. ^ Hof, A. R.; Bright, P. W. (2010). "The value of agri-environment schemes for macro-invertebrate feeders: Hedgehogs on arable farms in Britain" (PDF). Animal Conservation 13 (5): 467. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2010.00359.x. Badger predation of hedgehogs was high in the study site and the main cause of death 
  14. ^ Where have all the hedgehogs gone ?. Retrieved on 2013-09-05.
  15. ^ "Facts about British Hedgehog". Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  16. ^ "Fauna selvativa e specie protette". Corpo Forestale dello Stato. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  17. ^ "Hedgehogs pose prickly problem for native fauna". Landcare Research media release. 17 September 2003. Archived from the original on 2003-10-01. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  18. ^ Ross, David (14 January 2009). "18 Trappers Sought for Hebrides to Protect Birds from Hedgehogs". The Herald. Retrieved 12 June 2009. 
  19. ^ "List of Hedgehog diseases". Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  20. ^ Takahashi, Yoko; Ayako Sano; Kayoko Takizawa; Kazutaka Fukushima; Makoto Miyaji; Kazuko Nishimura (2003). "The epidemiology and mating behavior of Arthroderma benhamiae var. erinacei in household four-toed hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris) in Japan" (PDF). Japanese Journal of Medical Mycology 44 (1): 31–8. doi:10.3314/jjmm.44.31. PMID 12590257. 
  21. ^ Haigh, Amy; O'Riordan, Ruth M.; Butler, Fidelma (2014). "Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus mortality on Irish roads". Wildlife Biology 20 (3): 155. doi:10.2981/wlb.12126. 
  22. ^ Lean, Geoffrey (10 September 2006). "Hedgehogs saved from death by McFlurry". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  23. ^ "A community for African Pygmy Hedgehog Owners and Breeders – Environmental Enrichment". Hedgehog World. Archived from the original on 2008-01-15. Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  24. ^ Pidd, Helen (14 September 2007). "Roast hedgehog and nettle pud – a slap-up feast for ancient Britons". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 June 2009. 
  25. ^ Qumsiyeh, Mazin B. (1996). Mammals of the Holy Land. Texas Tech UP. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-89672-364-1. 
  26. ^ Nijman, V. and Bergin, D. (2015). "Trade in hedgehogs (Mammalia: Erinaceidae) in Morocco, with an overview of their trade for medicinal purposes throughout Africa and Eurasia". Journal of Threatened Taxa 7 (5): 7131. doi:10.11609/JoTT.o4271.7131-7. 
  27. ^ Wood, Manfri Frederick (1979). In the Life of a Romany Gypsy. J.A. Brune. pp. 80–81. ISBN 978-0-7100-0197-9. 
  28. ^ "Potato Crisps – A History". BBC. 7 December 2002. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  29. ^ Dictionary of National Biography Vol. XLII, 1895
  30. ^ Henning, B.D., ed. (1983). "ONSLOW, Sir Richard (1601–64), of West Clandon, Surr. and Arundell House, The Strand, Westminster". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660–1690. Boydell and Brewer. 

External links[edit]