With their cute snuffly noses and tiny little feet, it’s no wonder that hedgehogs are one of our most loved creatures. They feature in everything from ancient sculptures to the stories of Beatrix Potter and were voted the United Kingdom’s favourite mammal in 2016. But how much do you know about these elusive nocturnal garden visitors?
Did you know?
- There are 17 species of hedgehogs in the world.
- Hedgehogs are found in Europe, Africa, Asia and New Zealand.
- The European hedgehog was introduced to New Zealand by settlers wanting a reminder of home.
- The cutest term for a group of hedgehogs is a ‘Prickle’.
- Baby hedgehogs are called ‘hoglets’.
- Although known as voracious ‘slug-munchers’, the number one food for European hedgehogs is actually beetles. Their poo glistens due to all the insect wings they consume.
- Hedgehogs can roam up to 2 miles a night on those tiny little feet.
- The name hedgehog dates back to the 1400s and the Middle English word ‘heyghoge’. The name refers to their love of foraging and sleeping in hedgerows and pig-like snouts. They also make a grunting noise like a pig when courting.
- Hedgehogs are born live with a protective membrane over their spines. The spines emerge within a few hours of being born and are initially white.
- Hedgehogs have over 5000 spines, which are made of keratin, the same material as human nails.
- Hedgehog winter nests are called ‘Hibernacula”.
- Hedgehog hibernation is not always continuous. They can wake up during milder periods for a bite to eat or even to move nests.
Sadly though hedgehog numbers are in sharp decline in the UK and other parts of Europe. There are lots of causes of this decline including hazards like roads, pesticide use and habitat loss.
With so much love out there for these cute creatures, campaigns have been started in the United Kingdom to try and save them and help halt their decline. Hedgehog hospitals have also sprung up to help treat sick and injured hedgehogs. They treat hundreds of hedgehogs each year including orphaned baby hoglets. Many of these hedgehogs will be successfully rehabilitated and returned back to where they were found.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with wild hedgehogs you can help by:
- Creating a ‘hedgehog highway’ to link your garden with others. A 5-inch square gap at the bottom of any fences is all that you need.
- Remove any garden hazards that can kill and injure hedgehogs including garden netting, slug pellets and herbicides.
- Create log piles for insects and leave an area long and wild for hedgehogs to forage.
- Plant lots of ground cover and use native hedging rather than fencing, if you can.
- Put out some kitten biscuits, specialist hedgehog food or meaty cat or dog food for your spiky friends at dusk and a bowl of water all year round.
- Seek urgent help from a hedgehog hospital if you find a hedgehog out in the day. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and don’t ‘sunbathe.’
Emma Farley runs a hedgehog hospital in York, England. She rehabilitates sick and injured hedgehogs with the aim of releasing them back to the wild once they are well again. She lives in York with her husband and two rescue cats. She also makes silver nature jewellery to help raise funds for her rescue work and to raise awareness of the plight of European hedgehogs. You can find out more about her work including lots more ideas for how to help hedgehogs at www.littlesilverhedgehog.com and on Twitter.