Master of the garden during the daytime, eager to have a friendly, affordable and completely natural night-time assistant? Prepare food and lodging for a hedgehog, and your wish will come true! Let’s get to know this cute and useful animal. Here are a few tips to make sure it feels welcome in your garden… to the point of calling it home!
All you need to know about the hedgehog
This small insect-devouring mammal is actually an omnivore: its digestive tract helps it absorb nutrients from both plant and animal food. Here are a few key facts:
- Female hedgehog – sow
- Male hedgehog – boar
- Baby hedgehog – hoglet or urchin
- Hedgehog weight – variable, depends on the season. 14 ounces to 4 pounds (400g to 1.8kg)
- Hedgehog size – 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) long and 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) long.
- Hedgehog lifespan – 7 to 10 years in a good environment. Average, though, is 2 to 3 years.
- It has a tail and 36 teeth.
- It can’t see very well, but has excellent smell and hearing.
The common hedgehog is normally native to Europe. It doesn’t live in the wild in America.
Every hedgehog has a pelt of 5000 to 7000 spikes that are each about an inch long (2 to 3 cm). Spikes last 18 months. They keep growing continuously, just like hair. A long, circular muscle runs around the edge of the spiky patch: the orbiculary muscle. When it contracts, it wraps the hedgehog up like an armor full of sharp points. Hedgehogs quickly curl up into a ball of bristles whenever they feel threatened. The underside of the body is covered with long silky hair. A hedgehog is hard to find when it doesn’t move because its color provides good camouflage.
- However, once it starts moving, it’s usually very noisy: it huffs and puffs, chews and grunts as it waddles around. It grunts somewhat like a young piglet when it’s afraid. A bit like a sharp screech!
Predators and dangers : Natural predators include the badger, fox, marten, royal eagle, eagle-owl. Man-made risks are swimming-pools, plastic pollution, insecticides, cars and deforestation (causes habitat loss).
- Hibernation for the hedgehog: from November to April. In fall, the hedgehog grows fatter to prepare for this difficult period: it reaches nearly 5 pounds (2.2kg). As time passes, it burns its fats at a rate of around an ounce every fortnight (2g daily). It wakes up during hibernation about twenty times to forage for food and pee. Each waking is a considerable effort and consumes quite a lot of energy. Whenever it’s frightened, a hedgehog instinctively bundles up into a ball. Spikes stick out in all directions.
Hedgehog reproduction cycle
Season for hedgehog reproduction : April to September For this typically solitary animal, males and females only meet to mate. The temporal gland releases pheromones that spread far and wide. This smell marks the hedgehog’s territory and helps them avoid each other in day-to-day life. When the mating season approaches, Sir Hedgehog seeks out a Missus.
As soon as he’s spotted one, an amazing mating dance begins that can last several hours. Sir Hedgehog runs circles around his conquest, prodding her with his nose and paws and occasionally urinating along the way. He continues until the lady stretches her hind legs behind her and lowers the bristles on her back. At that moment, Sir Hedgehog can climb on her back to mate without being pricked.
Once he’s finished, the male hedgehog excretes a sort of gooey substance that coats the female’s genitals, making it more difficult for her to mate with another male (but not impossible: hoglets from a same litter often have different fathers). Sexual maturity is reached at the age of one year old, but most sows need three years to successfully breed their first litter of surviving hoglets.
The gestation period lasts from31 to 35 days. Each brood counts from 4 to 7 babies (the mother has ten nipples). The babies are born blind, and their skin is smooth but swollen – entirely without spikes. However, within hours, soft, white spikes appear along their back. Over the following four weeks, these baby spikes are pushed out and replaced with darker brown-colored ones. Usually about 3 out of 5 babies don’t survive, rather high death rate. They leave the nest at the age of two months. Even if she meets them later on, the mother hedgehog won’t recognize her children.
Having a hedgehog in your garden
Depending on the country you’re in, the hedgehog might be a protected species. It’s illegal to destroy them, transfer them to new locations, cage them, sell them or even to naturalize them. If your garden is a good place for hedgehogs, you can encourage it to stay. The hedgehog plays a crucial role for biodiversity and contributes to balancing out ecosystems because it eats lots of insects, controlling caterpillars and bollworms. From time to time, it also adds in the odd lizard, young mice, bird chicks, eggs, fruits and mushrooms… and, luckily for us, snails and slugs!
How to let hedgehogs into your garden:
- It needs a space at least 6 inches (12 cm) high and 6 inches (12 cm) wide to sneak through. If your garden is surrounded with hedges, it can easily climb across it. The hedgehog is an excellent climber! Upon reaching the top, it’ll roll into a ball and drop to the ground. The spiky body armor breaks the fall and it bustles away as if nothing happened. Top speed for the hedgehog is about 4.5 miles per hour (7.5 km/h).
Shelter for hedgehog
If you’ve got a place where you’re composting things, you can set a nest up nearby. Since the hedgehog has an excellent sense of smell and hearing, it will quickly make the most of that free food center. From there, it will explore its new territory and become the gardener’s best friend. No need to use pesticides anymore with this pest-eating animal. You’ll save lots and, on top of that, increase biodiversity your very own garden.
What counts most is to set the shelter away from both sun and wind, and to cover it up with dead leaves. It must be large enough to welcome an entire family. Most importantly, don’t put anything inside. Your guest will decorate the house on its own. A favorite is a layer of leaves and twigs that turns into a soft mat as the hedgehog rolls around inside. Thanks to the spines on its back, everything is pressed and matted down. The opening must be wide enough to let the hedgehog through, but small enough to keep cats or dogs out.
- Just like the toad, it helps if there’s always a little water available for a drink. Favor small containers hewn out of rough materials because when edges are slippery, hedgehogs might drown since they can’t climb out.
Make your garden appealing by offering a few animal crackers or cooked chicken breasts. Remember to have a low bowl with water for it to drink. Every night, a hedgehog will chomp down nearly 2½ oz of food (70g). Use flat plates to serve the food. To keep other animals from getting at it, cover the food with a upside-down saucer. The hedgehog will move the saucer aside without any difficulty.
What not to do:
- Give the hedgehog cow milk, raw meat or raw fish, bread, or chocolate. It would die of dysentery.
- Set a heap of branches and leaves on fire without first checking that a hedgehog nest isn’t under it.
- Use pesticides.
- Set up nets to keep birds out.
Hedgehog, an endangered species
The hedgehog is an endangered species and it might disappear. Let’s give them space in our gardens to thrive and multiply. It’s a really fun animal to come across. You can observe it for hours on end and not get bored. Signs of hedgehogs include small shiny black cylindrical poop pellets, and sometimes you’ll notice the lawn grass being flattened in places. Dusk is a great time to observe the garden and sight it. The hedgehog is quite approachable. It’s an adorable creature. It thrives on routines and habits, as you’ll quickly discover!
Regulation regarding hedgehogs
Permission to handle hedgehogs (to save them or transfer them to other places) is often subject to local authorities. You must request a permit from them.
- The only valid reason to move a hedgehog without a permit is if it needs health care (vet).
A few charities that help care for hedgehog in Great Britain:
- The British Hedgehog Preservation Society
- Hedgehog street
- Prickles and paws
- On social media: Hedgehogs!
A word of wisdom:
“Animals often lick themselves clean… except for sea urchins and hedgehogs!”
Smart Tips about the hedgehog
If every you need to catch and handle it, use gloves because hedgehogs often carry diseases like scabies or ringworm. These diseases can spread to human beings. However, don’t fear fleas if you see them on a hedgehog: they won’t transfer to you or to other pets such as cats and dogs because it is a host-specific species.
If you have to feed your hedgehog medicine, slip it into a small egg pastry. A hedgehog loves tasting new things and this snack won’t hurt it in the least.