The hedgehog is the most easily one of the most recognised of British mammals yet they are steadily disappearing from the wild. 

Hedgehog Habits

Daily Life: a hedgehog is normally a solitary, nocturnal animal. During spring and summer days it sleeps in a temporary nest and wakes up at dusk to venture out and hunt for food. It is an insectivore and eats all sorts of invertebrates, is partial to birds' eggs and raids mouse nests for newborn young. In autumn, soft fruit is eaten.

A hedgehog may roam over 2 - 4 km a night in search of food. As it searches, it will climb short stone walls, fences and even swim across water.

Hedgehogs are noisy animals, snuffling loudly as they shuffle through the undergrowth. They have poor eyesight but an acute sense of smell, touch and hearing.

If threatened with danger, a hedgehog will raise its spines and roll up into a tight ball. This will deter most animals, though a determined fox is capable of opening one up! The spines are really modified hairs about 25mm long. An adult hedgehog has about 3,000 - 5,000 spines. Each one lasts about a year before it drops out and a new one is grown.

A hedgehog has the strange habit of 'self anointing'; when it comes across a strong smell or taste it twists its head round and, using the tongue, covers its spines and fur in a frothy saliva - looking as thought it is covered in soap bubbles! This behaviour is quite normal but no-one knows its purpose.

Winter: the hedgehog's food is in short supply during the winter, so it spends the coldest months hibernating in a specially prepared nest; this is usually at ground level in a hedgerow, a compost heap, under a thick layer of leaves or under logs. Before curling into a tight ball in this hibernaculum, the hedgehog spends the autumn eating as much food as possible to store it as fat which is used up during sleep. If insufficient fat has been stored, the hedgehog may die during a long, hard winter. Hibernation usually lasts from November until March. During this time the body temperature drops to that of its surroundings and breathing almost stops.

Breeding: Hedgehogs are ready to breed in April. If you hear loud snuffling and grunting noises at night in the garden, it may be hedgehogs mating. The male (boar) circles round the female (sow), sometimes for hours, trying to persuade her to mate. After mating, the male leaves, taking no part in rearing the young.

The female makes a special 'maternity' nest of leaves and grass, and after a gestation period (the time between mating and birth) of about 32 days, three to five babies are born. At first, the young are blind and pink but soon sprout soft white spines. Their eyes open at about 14 days and they grow more and more brown spines. Their mother suckles them until they can hunt for themselves. She takes them on their first foraging trip after 4 weeks and 10 days later they all go their separate ways. A second litter may be produced in late summer, but seldom survives the winter because there isn't enough time to make a good store of fat.

Read More: Hedgehogs and Humans

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