Named for its habit of rooting through hedges and undergrowth for insects and worms, the hedgehog is a friend to gardeners and farmers because it will eat many of the pests that can damage vegetables and crops.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Eulipotyphla
Family - Erinaceidae
Subfamily - Erinaceinae
Genus - Atelerix, Erinacaeus, Hemiechinus, Mesechinus, Paraechinus
Species - 16 species across five genera
Common Names - Hedgehog, Urchin, Hedgepig, Furze-pig
Hedgehogs are very small, typically between 6 and 14 inches long and between 2 and 4 pounds. Their bodies are covered with stiff spines that are actually hollow hairs. They have long snouts and tiny, erect ears. Hedgehogs can be tan, brown, or gray.
Female hedgehogs usually breed during their second year of life. The gestation period for a female hedgehog is between 35 and 40 days. In the wild, most hedgehogs will give birth in early summer, but pet hedgehogs can breed all year. The average litter size is 4 or 5 hoglets. However, most of the time, in the wild, only 2 or 3 baby hedgehogs survive until weaning. When the hoglets are 3 or 4 weeks old, they will begin to leave the nest with their mothers to forage for insects and grubs. After about 10 days of accompanying their mothers, they will wander off on their own.
Hedgehogs are usually solitary animals, coming together with one another only for mating. If they are attacked, they typically curl up into a small ball, protecting themselves with their prickly spines. They also curl up into a ball to go to sleep as a matter of self-protection. Hedgehogs in the wild sleep all day and come out to forage under cover of darkness. In colder climates, hedgehogs hibernate during the winter, but in warmer areas, they will be active all year long.
Hedgehogs are one of the oldest mammals on the planet. Some biologists estimate that they have been around for 15 million years. They are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. They were introduced to New Zealand as well. No species of hedgehog is native to Australia or the United States, although many people keep them as pets. The most common domestic hedgehog is the four-toed or African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventrus).
As the human population grows and native habitats are developed, hedgehogs have lost a significant portion of their natural habitat. While numbers of hedgehogs world-wide are stable, in many areas, like in Great Britain, hedgehog numbers are declining.