A tiny baby hedgehog being hand-fed:
A hedgehog is a spiny mammal found through parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand (by introduction).
The name hedgehog came into use around the year 1450, derived from the Middle English heyghoge:
- heyg, hegge (“hedge”), because hedgehogs frequent hedgerows; and
- hoge, hogge (“hog”), from its piglike snout.
Hedgehogs share distant ancestry with shrews, and have changed little over the last 15 million years. Like many of the first mammals, they have adapted to a nocturnal, insectivorous way of life. Hedgehogs’ spiny protection resembles that of the unrelated rodent porcupines.
Hedgehogs are easily recognized by their spines, numbering about 5,000 to 6,500 quills, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Newly born hedgehogs are blind with a protective membrane covering their quills, resembling pimples, which dries and shrinks over the next several hours.
A hedgehog’s spines are not poisonous or barbed and, unlike the quills of a porcupine, cannot easily be removed. As a last defense against a predator, a hedgehog rolls into a tight ball, causing all of the spines to point outwards. When under extreme stress or during sickness, a hedgehog can lose its spines.
Hedgehogs are omnivores. Their diet consists of insects, snails, frogs and toads, snakes, bird eggs, carrion, mushrooms, grass roots, berries, melons and watermelons.
Depending on the species, the gestation period is 35–58 days. Depending on the size of the species, the average litter is 3 to 6 newborns.
Hedgehogs have a relatively long lifespan for their size. Larger species of hedgehogs live 4–7 years in the wild (some have been recorded up to 16 years), and smaller species live 2–4 years (4–7 in captivity).
It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in some US states and some Canadian municipalities, and breeding licenses are required. No such restrictions exist in most European countries with the exception of Scandinavia, Italy, and the UK where hedgehogs are considered endangered.