Hedgehogs are simply one of the cutest animals out there. But there’s much more to hedgehogs than their prickly, yet adorable appearance. In this post, we’ll go through all the weird and wonderful facts you probably didn’t know about these creatures.
Table of Contents
Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant
Many drawings, especially in older books, show hedgehogs sipping milk that has been brought to them by kind and attentive people. In reality, you shouldn’t give milk or any dairy products to hedgehogs. They have lactose intolerance, which means that they lack the specific enzymes in their digestive tract needed for breaking down the milk sugar. When clueless people give milk to hedgehogs, the poor animals get diarrhea and might experience intense stomach pain.
They don’t rely on eyes for hunting
Hunting time for hedgehogs means using their great sense of smell alongside their ears to detect sudden movements. And why don’t they use their eyes as opposed to many animals in the wild? The answer is pretty straightforward: hedgehogs can’t rely on their eyes because their eyesight is quite poor. It’s better to use other senses that are much more capable as they come handy when hunting and foraging.
Spike count: over 5000
If you took the time to count the spikes on an average adult hedgehog, then you would end your count somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000. All of these keratin-filled spikes need very strong back muscles to work them in hedgehogs’ favor when there’s danger around them. And activating the spines doesn’t always mean that a hedgehog is afraid. Sometimes they might be angry instead.
Hedgehogs aren’t native to the New World
Every single hedgehog species is native to the Old World. That means all the hedgehogs in America, Australia, and New Zealand were introduced there by humans. Other than that, these little creatures have been living in many many places in Eurasia and even Africa. Nowadays, more and more hedgehogs are someone’s pets. You could find at least one hedgehog in almost any country in the world.
Hedgehogs don’t gather food with their quills
Popular depictions show hedgehogs using their spikes to bring food from point A to point B. For example, in many children’s books, you can see a hedgehog carrying mushrooms and berries that have been stuck on their backs. It looks really cute, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. When all the spikes are pointing up like that, it means there’s trouble and gathering food is the last thing on the hedgehog’s mind.
New Zealand almost elected a hedgehog as a Parliament member
Almost, sort of. On Waiheke Island, one lucky goat received a proper nomination in a local body election. After that, a satirical New Zealand party McGillicuddy Serious Party tried to get a hedgehog to the Parliament. Needless to say, the hedgehog didn’t get a chance to prove himself in the political sphere as the candidacy failed. For a moment, though, it seemed realistic because they exploited an electoral loophole.
They have unique defense skills
Scientists have discovered that hedgehogs have a very interesting defense reaction. Let’s say they sense a very strong smell. As hedgehogs have a natural protective mechanism against some plant-based poisons, they might eat these poisonous plants and make thick saliva out of the chewed biomaterial. After that, hedgehogs lick their spines to cover their spikes with frothy plant poison. That’s ingenious!
How do you call a baby hedgehog?
For a long time, people didn’t really have any nice names for baby hedgehogs. They were called babies and young hedgehogs; at times, people used to call them even pups or piglets. But starting from the early 1990s, they finally got an appropriate new name. Hoglet or hedgehoglet isn’t that just cute!
Gardeners love hedgehogs
Why would gardeners have warm feelings towards hedgehogs? Well, hedgehogs are opportunistic eaters and they will eat many typical garden pests. In some regions, people even leave some cat food in urban gardens as a way to make sure the hedgehogs come back again. Plus, who would mind these cuties ‘invading’ the garden?
Teeth count: over 40
Yes, hedgehogs typically have up to 44 teeth! Similarly to us, they have canine teeth, incisors, premolars, and molars. But the funny thing is that hedgehogs get all their teeth around the age of 3 weeks. Imagine that they use the same set of teeth for their whole lives! And don’t forget that hedgehogs use their teeth for attacking. For example, they can bite snakes to death and even break their backs before consumption.
There’s no limit to wonderful hedgehog names
What’s the best name for your spiky pal? Well, that depends on the little fella’s personality and color. But there are plenty of great names to choose from when you are in serious doubt. Typical boys’ names include Blade, Blaze, Sonic, Thorn, Slayer, Turbo, and Spike. Girls’ names, on the other hand, include Willow, Hazel, Pixie, Flower, Heather, Star, and Clover. Regardless of gender, you can always name them Cocoa, Baby, and Peanut!
Hedgehogs hunt even venomous snakes
And that’s because some hedgehog species have protection against the snake venom. Of course, that doesn’t mean the hedgehogs are immune to all of the snake venom in the wild. It’s rather like this: hedgehogs have acquired immunity against the venom of the snakes they typically hunt and eat. Do you think that these snakes might be having scary dreams about hedgehogs? Sounds likely!
Brothers Grimm told a fairy tale called “Hans My Hedgehog”
Even the famous fairy tale collectors couldn’t fight the cuteness overload of hedgehogs and accepted a fairy tale featuring a hedgehog into their treasure trove of folklore. But the story comes with an important twist, it’s about a boy Hans who’s born half-hedgehog and half-human. The Brothers Grimm tale turned into a children’s book in 2012 and it’s carrying the same title.
Their name isn’t random at all
Many of us wonder where did hedgehog get its name. The first part comes from hedgehogs’ strange foraging habits: they move through hedges and undergrowth to find some food. But this doesn’t explain the ‘pig’ part. Well, they make grunts similar to pigs while they are doing their scavenging. And when you put the two parts together, you get ‘hedgehog’. Simple, right?
Pet hedgehogs are illegal in some states
California, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and New York City’s five boroughs have declared pet hedgehogs illegal. Why on Earth would anyone ban pets hedgehogs? Legislators are afraid that accidentally releasing them into the wild might be bad for the environment. And owners with questionable motives or poor caretaking skills have raised concern as well. Hedgehogs need proper care!
Hedgehogs had their own Olympic Games
That might come off as a joke to many people, but it definitely isn’t! International Hedgehog Olympic Games (IHOG) were held in the States for many years. The event was part of a special pet fair where hedgehogs from a variety of states and foreign countries could come together and compete in different ‘sports’. There isn’t too much information about it online anymore as it was organized until 2006.
In some languages, sea hedgehogs are a thing
In Dutch, sea urchins are zeeegels; that’s directly translatable into sea hedgehogs. Similarly, in Spanish, urchins are erizos de mar, which has the exact same translation. And the same logic applies vice-versa. There English dialects out there that use the word urchin for hedgehogs. While the names are uniquely mixed, we can probably all agree that land hedgehogs (or urchins) are a million times cuter than the ones living under the water.
Hedgehogs are able to hibernate
Not all hedgehogs hibernate, but when they do, you can tell easily. You should know that the hibernation period doesn’t mean a state of total sleep. Instead, it’s about dropping the body temperature to equalize it with the surrounding air. For hedgehogs, doing this is a great way to save as much energy as they can. they can’t really do anything while hibernating as all the bodily functions are slowed down to the extreme.
They have more than 15 species
According to different sources, there are 16-17 different hedgehog species in the world. One of the most common ones is the European hedgehog, scientifically known as Erinaceus europaeus. When it comes to having hedgehogs as pets, the most typical one is the African pygmy hedgehog. Also, it’s not too rare to see Egyptian long-eared hedgehogs or the Indian long-eared hedgehogs as pets.
A group of hedgehogs? It’s an ‘array’!
Did you know that a group of hedgehogs is an ‘array’? That’s a strange word, but you wouldn’t see a group of hedgehogs very often anyway. These animals love to be on their own and they start to pair up only during the mating time. You could still have an array of hedgehogs in your garden. It’s just very likely that hedgehogs belonging to that array won’t be scavenging and eating side-by-side.
Hedgehogs stay only 4-7 weeks with their mothers
Humans have just started to bond with their parents after a few months following their birth. In the hedgehog world, this is the right time to pack up your stuff and discover the world out there. Usually, the mother stays with her hoglets for 24-48 hours after giving birth. Then she ventures out and goes foraging. After 6-8 weeks, the hoglets feel all grown-up and leave the nest.
Their lifespan is similar to guinea pigs
Guinea pigs and hedgehogs have a similar lifespan when they are held in captivity. The average lifespan for African pygmy hedgehogs is between 4-6 years and it’s very similar to guinea pigs. Both pet hedgehogs and guinea pigs might easily live up to eight years. In the wild, both of these animals have a bit shorter average lifespan resulting from disease exposure, predation, and other crucial factors.
Hedgehogs make many sounds, they even hiss
Hedgehogs may cough, chirp, huff, grunt, snore, and scream. But one of the most distressing sounds is their hissing. Making this peculiar sound means they are definitely agitated or frightened about something. Hissing serves as a warning signal for enemies that might have shady plans regarding the hedgehog. Dinner, perhaps? Often enough, the hissing is accompanied by humping and making a clicking sound.
They have quite a few enemies
Although hedgehogs in their defense mode can seem pretty intimidating, they still have some enemies. Many birds of prey, including hawks and owls, want to attack and eat hedgehogs. Ferrets, foxes, and weasels from the animal kingdom are interested in attacking the prickly small creatures as well. Urban-dwelling hedgehogs face other challenges: lawnmowers and pesticides can be very dangerous for them.
Hedgehogs come in many shapes, sizes, and colors
As there are many different hedgehog species, their length can range from 4 to 12 inches. Hedgehogs may weigh anywhere between 5 to 56 ounces, depending on the particular species as well. And did you know that hedgehogs have 92 color varieties? Salt & pepper, chocolate, champagne, platinum, Algerian apricot, and albino are just some of them in a long list of color patterns.
The first hedgehog was domesticated in 4th century BC
Most likely, the first domesticated hedgehog lived in the fourth century BC in ancient Rome. The ancient Romans kept Algerian hedgehogs, but it’s not entirely known whether they bred them or not. One thing is for sure: they used the hedgehog quills for training other animals. For example, teaching a weaned calf to stop suckling anymore.
Even Shakespeare mentioned hedgehogs in his writings
Hedgehogs are so legendary that even Shakespeare has mentioned them in his plays. Both “Macbeth” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” featured hedgehogs in one way or another. In these times, hedgehogs’ popular folklore image bordered on a negative one because wicked elves were supposed to have shifted their shape into a hedgehog.
They are born with soft spines
When hedgehogs are born, they do have tiny spikes. That said, the spikes are quite different compared to adult hedgies. Babies’ spikes feel smooth and soft, yet the mature hedgehogs’ quills are prickly like a cactus and even the texture is hard. At birth, the quills are hidden under a liquid-rich skin. That serves the needs of the hoglets’ mother; the skin protects her from accidental harm.
Hedgehogs can climb and swim
Don’t get us wrong, hedgehogs are far from Olympic swimmers or brave mountaineers. But smaller rocks, walls, and steps won’t be a big obstacle for hedgies. When it comes to swimming, most hedgehog species are perfectly good swimmers. Ponds, rivers, and streams that aren’t huge are manageable for hedgehogs as they can swim from one end to another. The important part is not crossing the path with any high sides like swimming pools tend to have. Hedgehogs can’t climb out!
They don’t steal milk from cows
Can you believe that people thought hedgehogs drink cows’ milk? And that old wive’s tale held strong even until into the twentieth century? There are quite a few reasons why that’s definitely not the case. Like we mentioned in the beginning, hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and they aren’t interested in scavenging for milk or dairy products. The other, even a more obvious, reason is the fact that it’s quite hard for tiny hedgehogs to start drinking from a cow’s udder. This myth spread throughout the farming communities because sometimes the farmers found blood in their cows’ milk. It’s unclear who came up with the idea that this situation had any connection to hedgehogs.
They have a funny mating ritual
It’s very fun to see a male hedgehog engaged in a mating ritual. In short, the male will circle a female while making regular puffing and snorting sounds. But the solo male has to watch out. All of this commotion might attract rivals, after which chasing each other and even colliding head-on isn’t a rare occasion. Usually, it takes two years for hedgehogs to reach the appropriate maturity to start engaging in breeding behavior.
A hedgehog’s gestation period is surprisingly short
What is the average gestation period for hedgehogs? It’s only around 35 days. While it’s an often-quoted number, in reality, the actual period might range anywhere between 30-45 days as there are always exceptional cases. After the birth, the mother will have a ravaging appetite. She’ll eat a lot more compared to her regular consumption patterns while not saying no to more drinking water as well. All of that birth-giving can make you hungry!
Their long snouts are there for a practical reason
Having a long snout isn’t there (only) to make hedgehogs look cuter. Actually, it’s a great tool for foraging and hunting. As the snout is located ahead of their mouths, it’s much easier to look for food. Boasting a long snout makes much more sense when you think about what kind of food they are looking for: berries, caterpillars, insects, and worms.
You can find burrowing hedgehogs in the wild
Hedgehogs either make their home by burrowing or building a nest. Their burrows can be up to 20 inches deep, not the easiest structure to make, but hedgehogs are real troopers and can manage to burrow the holes just fine. Also, there are some cases when hedgehogs take over burrows that have been abandoned by other animals. It’s a nice shortcut!
Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals
One of the most characteristic living patterns of hedgehogs is their nocturnal lifestyle. If they need to get anything done, you can be quite sure that they’ll do that during the night. That’s why hedgehogs can be quite loud pets for the nighttime and people should know about this before taking this little creature in their home. In the wild, hedgehogs cover a lot of mileage during the dark hours. When the dusk falls, hedgehogs feel that the day has just started.
Officially, they are classified as insect eaters
Similarly to moles, moonrats, and gymnures, hedgehogs are insectivores; in other words, they love to eat insects. But when you think about the European hedgehogs’ diet, there’s much more to it than just insects: birds’ eggs, snails, slugs, and chicks. African hedgehogs can even eat snakes, frogs, lizards, moths, and dead animals. What a variety!
Hedgehogs aren’t rodents at all
Porcupines are rodents, but hedgehogs surely aren’t. While some people believe that hedgehogs are related to porcupines, then actually that’s far from the truth. Hedgehogs belong to the order of Erinaceomorpha and they have more in common with shrews than porcupines.
Desert hedgehogs feast on scorpions
African hedgehogs are so fierce they can easily eat scorpions or tarantulas. When people hear this interesting fact, they are often shocked: how can the hedgehogs eat the scorpion without getting seriously hurt? Well, they bite the stinger off before eating the scorpion. That way, there’s no risk of getting the poison in their system.
Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most famous fictional hedgehogs
Sonic isn’t the only fictional hedgehog in our popular culture, but it’s surely one of the most well-known characters. Blue-and-beige colored Sonic can run at supersonic speed and curl into a ball in order to attack his enemies. At first, he was the protagonist of Sega’s video game saga, but later he’s been featured in many animations, comics, and other video games. He made the first appearance in 1991, but the brave hedgehog is still going strong. The latest video game Sonic Mania hit the shelves worldwide in 2017.
McDonald’s showed respect for hedgehogs
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (yes, that’s an actual organization) had been campaigning for years against McFlurry containers. Many hedgehogs had died after trying to eat leftover dessert from cups that had been thrown away. Basically, the lid was large enough for the hedgehogs to poke their heads in, but they couldn’t get it out anymore. Finally, McDonald’s did some research and came up with a new design featuring a smaller lid. A small step for a fast-food corporation, a huge step in hedgehogs’ safety!