People love African Pygmy Hedgehogs. The spiky creatures are small and cute, making them a growingly popular choice for a pet. It’s wise to learn all about their background and behavior before welcoming a new animal to your home. In this post, we’ll discover all there is to know about the African Pygmy Hedgehogs. Let’s go!
Table of Contents
Where do they come from?
As the name suggests, they are native to Africa. Nowadays, they can be found in homes and zoos all around the world. But keep in mind that the African roots are more complex than they seem at first. In reality, African Pygmy Hedgehogs never lived in the wilderness. These hedgehogs descend from the hybrid between Algerian Hedgehogs (Atelerix algirus) and Four-toed Hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris).
When discussing their habitat and behavior in the wild, people mostly refer to the Four-toed Hedgehogs. That’s what we’ll be doing here as well. Also, keep in mind that many of the physical and behavioral traits apply to all hedgehogs.
What are their key characteristics?
African Pygmy Hedgehogs fit the picture of a typical hedgehog you have in your mind’s eye. But they are tiny! Usually, they weigh around 1-1.5 lbs (0.5-0.7 kg). Their length is anywhere between 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters). A pointed snout, protective spines, and dark eyes characterize these small animals.
Also, they have five toes on the front feet, but only four on the back. Their life span may hit the ten-year mark, but the average is less than that. As opposed to pet hedgehogs, Four-toed Hedgehogs live around 2-3 years in the wild. Currently, they aren’t listed as endangered species.
Many people think hedgehogs are rodents. That’s simply not true. Nor are they in any way related to pigs or porcupines. Instead, they belong to their own family (Erinaciadae) hosting seventeen species in total. Encyclopedias may classify them as insectivorous, but it’s more accurate to call them omnivorous. African Pygmy Hedgehogs eat both meat and plants.
Furthermore, they are plantigrade and terrestrial. The former signifies they walk on their entire foot and the latter means they live on the ground. At times, hedgehogs carry a crepuscular nature as well. This describes the inclination to be active at dawn or dusk.
Extreme climatic conditions lead hedgehogs to start the aestivation. When the heat becomes too much to handle, hedgehogs go into a summer hibernation mode. They will hide somewhere and significantly lower their metabolism. Fat reserves are used until the weather gets better. That’s why it’s important for hedgehog owners to keep an eye on the proper temperature. Failing to keep the right temperature may result in life-threatening hibernation for pet hedgehogs.
How do they behave?
African Pygmy Hedgehogs are solitary creatures. They aren’t interested in others outside of the breeding seasons. Being solitary comes with a strong sense of territory. When somebody invades their territory, the hedgehogs become aggressive. The offenders will see that the defending hedgehog erects their spines, hisses, grunts, and even attack the invader head-on. That’s why you should never house African Pygmy Hedgehogs together. They could fight to the death. Scientist discovered that hedgehogs love to stay a minimum of 60 feet apart from each other.
The only reason for keeping your hedgehogs together is breeding. Separate the pair after they finish mating. Although, you should keep in mind that breeding African Pygmy Hedgehogs isn’t the easiest task out there.
It’s essential that females have just the right age and weight. Otherwise, they along with the litter might not survive the labor. Another aspect considers the instinct of becoming a mother. In some cases, mothers entirely reject their offspring or even eat them.
The spines are very useful for these tiny animals. Don’t believe the illustration in children’s books! Hedgehogs don’t go around carrying apples and mushrooms on their backs with raised spikes. But they do use their spines as an effective defense mechanism.
Spines as protection
In the wild, hedgehogs need to protect themselves from many predators. One of the first instincts for them is to roll into a ball. All the spines are erect at this point, forming a line of defense between the hedgehog and the attacker. Four-toed Hedgehogs can attack the predators by lunging with erected spines straight towards the enemy. Pretty fierce, right?
The back muscles of hedgehogs control the spines. While the quills pose a significant challenge to most predators, there are some that might not back down. For example, eagles and weasels are known to endure some damage in order to have a hedgehog for lunch. Still, for many animals, the quills along with the act of rolling into a ball create enough confusion to move on elsewhere.
People wonder whether the quills are equal to the porcupines’. Actually, there are a few key differences. Porcupine quills are barbed at the end and tend to detach easily, whereas hedgehogs’ spines endure a lot of physical stress. The hedgehogs’ spines contain keratin, which is why they are called modified hair in more scientific discussions. Hedgehogs boast a huge number of individual quills, an average individual may have 5,000 to 6,500 spines.
How do African Pygmy Hedgehogs mate?
As mentioned, hedgehogs have a solitary nature. During the mating seasons, they become much more social compared to rest of their lives. The courtship is noisy, to say the least. The hedgehogs start circling each other while making all kinds of noises, including grunting, squeaking, and snuffling. Sometimes another male may interrupt the courting. This may result in sparring that is rarely dangerous to the participants.
When we are talking about the mating season, then it’s important to state that they don’t have a seasonal rhythm. The reproduction can take places throughout the year. That means each individual hedgehog experiences its own mating season while trying to find hedgehogs in the same state.
The actual mating process is careful and delicate, especially in the beginning. The female needs to be very careful as not to pierce the partner during the intercourse. This carefulness reflects in the female holding herself still while not making any sudden moves. During the mating season, hedgehogs may have multiple partners. Pregnancy lasts about four weeks, and usually, one litter holds around 4-5 hoglets.
Little hedgehogs are born with spines that haven’t penetrated the skin’s outer layer. This is a natural mechanism to protect the mother from any injuries. It takes a few hours after being born before the spines break through the skin. In a period of just 24 hours, the quills harden and turn sharp enough to endanger potential predators. On average, hoglets spend around five weeks with their mothers after which they’ll head on their own way.
Are they very different from typical pets?
African Pygmy Hedgehogs are definitely different from many typical pets regarding their personalities. For example, dogs and guinea pigs love attention from humans. They are very social animals and need quite a lot of interaction. Hedgehogs don’t have this need to socialize. While they aren’t violent or unpleasant around humans, they might be quite shy. Before getting a pet hedgehog, you should keep in mind that they don’t thrive on social interaction. Too much playing and attention could easily become stressful for them.
Indeed, hedgehogs aren’t very social, but that doesn’t mean they are passive. Instead of other animals, they love to interact with the surrounding environment. Active mentality and curiosity drive them to explore everything around them to the fullest. Watching them discover new places or interacting with their home turf can be a very enjoyable activity.
What do they eat?
African Pygmy Hedgehogs, like other animals in their family, are nocturnal. In other words, they sleep during the daytime and come out at night to find food. Hedgehogs have a really extensive menu that depends on what’s out there on a particular night. The following list includes, but doesn’t conclude, food items on a typical hedgehog’s menu:
When hedgehogs are out on a hunt, they will take the extra mile to find something to eat. They will walk and break through all the ground vegetation, soil, and leaves to find insects and other stomach-fillers full of energy and protein. The popular lore regarding their ability to eat venomous scorpions and snakes rests on solid evidence. While they might not be entirely immune to the venom, hedgehogs are able to consume harmful snakes.
What is ‘self-anointing’?
Self-anointing is a very interesting behavioral aspect of African Pygmy Hedgehogs. The hedgehog forms a frothy substance in its mouth, followed by rubbing it all over its spines. If you don’t know about this trait, then the whole process may seem very confusing. Usually, they carry out this behavior upon contact with an unknown or irritating substance.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure about the reason behind this strange behavior. There are quite a few proposed explanations. One of the ideas is that they are trying to confuse the predators by anointing themselves with weird smells. Another hypothesis states that it’s used to get attention from others. For example, hoglets from their mother and males from the opposite sex. One thing is for sure, though, it’s definitely an instinctual activity. It has even been recorded in tiny hoglets who haven’t opened their eyes yet.
Hedgehogs rely on many senses to find their prey. Scent, sight, and sound all play an important role in finding the next meal. The food can be located a few inches deep in the ground. When they find live prey, hedgehogs quickly snap it up in the mouth and start to chew the food. Stumbling upon large live prey means the hedgehog will shake the victim to death before starting to eat. Hedgehogs related to African Pygmy have been spotted to eat already dead animals as well.
Socializing the hedgehogs
Did you know that some people are allergic to hedgehogs, including the African Pygmy ones? Before taking an African Pygmy Hedgehog home, go out there, and try to make sure you don’t have any allergy towards them. Find a breeder and organize a visit so they could introduce you to some of the hedgies. In addition to the potential for allergies, you should find out whether handling them poses a problem. Especially in the beginning, they might curl up and not show any part of their head. Socializing and becoming more friendly with them needs patience and practice.
Females tend to be larger than males. Their eyesight isn’t bad as they have color vision up to a certain degree. Still, they aren’t relying solely on their sight to search for the food. Hearing and sense of smell might be even more important for the successful daily life. The sense of smell is especially impressive. They are able to detect prey more than 2 inches below the ground.
In the wilderness, African Pygmy Hedgehogs try to create burrows in various places. The typical hideouts include creatively using tree roots, termite mounds, burrows, logs, and rocks. A typical shelter might be under a pile of big rocks. That can be surrounded by thick tree roots to provide extra protection. The burrow provides protection from predators alongside the elements.
The ‘pygmy’ refers to their small size. When pet owners compare their hedgehogs, then the African Pygmy ones are more minuscule as opposed to the European Hedgehogs. The latter is also quite a popular choice for pets. As these hedgehogs become more popular, there are instances of new hybrid varieties popping up from the breeding processes. The most well-known African Pygmy varieties include albino and pinto hedgehogs.
What do you need for having one as a pet?
African Pygmy Hedgehogs need proper care and living standards. They are definitely not pets that could be taken without giving enough thought behind it. Housing is a very important part of providing them with the best environment as possible. During the nights, hedgehogs may become very active. Having enough space in the enclosure is essential for their well-being. But the cage needs to be secured because your hedgehog wouldn’t give a second thought when there’s an opportunity to escape and explore the world beyond the enclosure.
Cleaning the cage needs to be done on a regular basis. Food and feces tend to pile up pretty fast. And keep an eye on the hide box as well. Just cleaning the cage’s visible areas won’t cut it. What’s a hide box, you may ask? It’s a small container inside the cage. Your hedgehog gets a place to sleep and hide in during the daytime. Besides cleaning, you need to keep the temperature in and around the cage constantly suitable for the hedgie. Sudden drops or increases in ambient temperature? These may become dangerous for the spiky family member.
Food is another important issue. Give your African Pygmy Hedgehog proper hedgehog food. If there’s none available at your local pet store, then you can give them suitable cat food. The most suitable one is low on fat. Overfeeding hedgehogs may easily make them obese to the point of becoming a medical problem. Strict portion control is the best strategy to ensure that you hedgehog won’t get fat.
Hedgehogs and diseases
Like any other animals, hedgehogs may get sick. Keep an eye on their behavior and appearance. Spotting something out of the ordinary that just doesn’t go away surely means a visit to the vet. Common issues include heart disease, squamous cell carcinoma, and fatty liver disease. The latter usually results from a diet that doesn’t really fit the hedgehog’s nutritional needs. Less serious are diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia. They still need immediate attention. Also, hedgehogs can easily contract worms.
How to get an African Pygmy Hedgehog?
The best way to find an African Pygmy Hedgehog is to use professional breeder. Random pet stores don’t have the expertise and knowledge compared to reputable breeders. You are best off taking a hedgehog when it’s anywhere between six to eight weeks old. This way, you can be sure that the hoglet will get used to human handling. Also, there’s always some bonding between the owner and the hedgehog. The process is the easiest when the pet is still young.
There are even more ways you can ensure a better experience. Try to get a hedgehog that doesn’t fight against handling. Fighting the handling might be as simple as rolling into a ball. The fur, skin, and spines should look healthy. If there’s any discharge coming from the nose and eyes or the quills are missing, then it’s smart to avoid getting that particular hedgehog. These signs might indicate sickness.
Choosing the bedding and cleaning the cage
The best bedding is made of aspen shavings, kiln-dried pine, or recycled paper. You should definitely avoid using cedar shavings because the scent is toxic for hedgehogs. There are owners that use carpeting solutions, but if you opt for that, then you need extra maintenance. Namely, it’s important to cut the loose threads. Hedgehogs can easily get tangled in the loose threads because of the small size of their feet.
Cleaning the hedgehog cage is best using baby wipes and antibacterial spray. When you spray the antibacterial liquid, then use paper towels to dry the surfaces later. Some owners use white wine vinegar that has been diluted with water. Another way is to mix vinegar with water and citrus oil. The latter is only needed to counter the obnoxious vinegar smell.
Other things to know about keeping them healthy
Did you know that hedgehogs might run up to five miles a night? An exercise wheel is an absolutely mandatory part of any hedgehog cage. Every night, your hedgehog will use the wheel to burn off all those calories accumulated when eating the delicious food. One of the most comfortable solutions is to use a wheel made of plastic. It needs to be wide enough for the hedgehog not to fall out.
Heating the cage at the right temperature keeps your hedgehog healthy. Typically, owners opt for a ceramic heat emitter because it emits only heat without any additional light. But every lamp needs a guard. Otherwise, the heat emitter could become dangerous. It could burn your pet or the items in its close vicinity. Reptile heat mats aren’t the best option for hedgehogs, though. These mats aren’t as stable and could even start to burn through the enclosure.
What’s the bottom line?
African Pygmy Hedgehogs are the crossover between Algerian Hedgehogs and Four-toed Hedgehogs. They are much smaller compared to many others hedgehogs; hence, their ‘pygmy’ name. In the last years, these animals have become increasingly popular as pets. However, taking an African Pygmy Hedgehog at home shouldn’t be a decision made on the go.
The hedgehogs really need proper care, temperature, and environment that would keep them happy and in full health. Also, you should keep in mind that hedgehogs aren’t the most social creatures. While they won’t be aggressive towards you, you might want to keep the cuddling and socializing under control. Doing too many social activities might make the hedgehog stressed out.
Hedgehogs should be kept apart because they are solitary creatures in the wild. They only interact with each other during the mating season. Don’t be surprised if you see your African Pygmy Hedgehog covering their quills with frothy saliva. It’s called self-anointing and might be important for them to get attention or keep the predators away. Another behavioral trait is being nocturnal. Your hedgehog will sleep during the daytime while becoming really active after the sunset.