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The Hedgehog is a mammal of the family Erinaceidae. They are related to moles and shrews and are found in Europe, Northern Africa and Eastern Asia. They have been introduced into places such as the United States (as pets) and New Zealand, but these are not natural habitats. There are some 14 species of Hedgehog but the similarities between them are greater than their differences. They are generally a small, brownish, spine-covered, nocturnal insectivore.

The name hedgehog comes from the European species preference of habitat and manner of foraging. Hedgehogs in the United Kingdom have an affinity for sparsely wooded or cultivated land and scratch their burrows under the hedgerows that generally surround these areas. Their eyesight is poor, but their sense of hearing and smell is quite keen and the grunting noises they make as they root for food sounds like that of a pig. Hedgehogs are classified as insectivores, but will include frogs, bird's eggs, mice and snails in their diets. They will also eat seeds, fruit and grass if necessary. The hedgehog's diligent quest for insects makes them a sought after pest controller and farmers and gardeners will cut hedgehog-shaped holes in their fencing to allow the small mammal access to their grounds.

The hedgehog has a sharp, spiny coat that covers the majority of its body. Their spines are long hairs stiffened with keratin and are neither barbed nor poisonous. Their underbelly is covered with course hair. When threatened, the hedgehog will roll itself into a tight ball, actually contracting its skin so its spines stick out from all angles of its body. This surrounds the hedgehog with an impassable barrier and makes them nearly impervious to predators. The hedgehog has a natural resistance to toxins and a high level of immunity to venom which allows the hedgehog to include bees, wasps and poisonous snakes in their diet.

The hedgehog prefers a solitary life and practices true hibernation. Species living in colder climates curl themselves into a ball, drop their body temperature and sleep through the winter. Hedgehogs that live in desert areas with long periods of drought will estivate. Hedgehogs that live in more temperate climates, where there is no need for hibernation or estivation, may enter this state of dormancy when food is scarce.

Fun Hedgehog Facts

- The hedgehog is born with its spines lying just under the skin. The spines will "sprout" 2-3 days after they are born.

- Not many creatures prey on hedgehogs, ferrets and owls being among the few. However, adult male hedgehogs will prey on newborns, thereby forcing female hedgehogs to rigorously guard their nests.

- When confronted with an interesting scent, the hedgehog will lick and bite the object, creating a scented saliva in its mouth. They will then smear this spittle along their spines. This is called "self-anointing." Scientists don't know why hedgehogs do this.

- Hedgehogs are more commonly being kept as pets (although numerous states and countries have restrictions), but they are not easy to care for as they require a specific diet and housing.


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Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia

National Geographic

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