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Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are born between April and September but most will be born in May to June, usually with 4 – 5 babies in a litter, although it is usual that only 2 or 3 of these survive. Baby hedgehogs are born blind and pink but do not have spines although these develop very soon after. The mother Hedgehog will feed the young for the first month or so after which she will take them out on foraging expeditions, showing her young how to feed and on what. After two months the babies become fully independent. Hedgehogs are one of the few UK mammals to hibernate in the colder months, usually between November and March although they need to be at least 500 – 600 grams to successfully hibernate.

Western European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Image by Billy Lindblom via Flickr

Hedgehogs will wake up several times during hibernation and if you should spot one out between these times it is a good idea to offer it food and water. Hedgehogs usually live for 2 - 4 years in the wild but sadly Hedgehogs are in decline in the UK (with modern garden practises such as concreting and graveling being one of the culprits) and as such have recently joined the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which is a list of species in need of conservation and greater protection.

Identification

  • Obvious spines on body
  • Pointy snout with a black tip
  • More often seen at night
  • Common in gardens and parks
  • Black and brown in colour
  • Droppings are small and cylindrical consisting of insect fragments and will be shiny with a sweet smell (if you are brave enough to have a sniff!)
  • Often heard ‘snuffling’ when foraging for food
  • Will roll into a defensive ball when disturbed or threatened

Latin name: Erinaceus europaeus

In The Garden

Hedgehogs are considered the gardeners friend as they help to keep pests such as slugs, caterpillars and snails in check so remember never to use slug pellets or any poisons in your wildlife garden. As well as the naturally occurring food you may want to help your hedgehogs fatten up for the winter by supplementary feeding. One of the most important misconceptions is that you should feed bread and milk – please don’t, as hedgehogs can not digest the bread and they can not cope with the lactose in milk, instead feed tinned or dry dog food or cat food (not fish flavoured), chopped cheese, peanuts, meat, sultanas and raisins, but don’t give any processed food like bacon or corned beef as this type of food contains too much salt. Also don’t forget a constant fresh supply of water. Keep the food under a platform or in a feeding station so other animals or pets cant get at it. By also providing a hedgehog nesting box you may be lucky enough to have one hibernate in your garden this winter! You can buy these from commercial outlets or why not think about making your own? If you do have hedgehog visitors remember to be aware of hazards or other dangers, such as ponds and drains. Keep a rocky outcrop or slopes around the ponds edge, allowing any unfortunate Hedgehogs (or other small creatures) the opportunity to clamber out should they be unlucky enough to fall in, keep all drains coverered and make sure there are no slug pellets or poisons anywhere. Also don’t forget if you plan a bonfire this year to check it first for sleeping Hedgehogs. Better still move the bonfire or build it a few hours before lighting, if you go to any bonfire events see if you can find out whether they have done a’ hedgehog’ check to make people aware of the dangers.

Did you know...?

A Hedgehog can have up to 7000 spines Spines are made from Keratin, the same stuff as hair and nails Hedgehogs have been around for 15 million years! Hedgehogs are born spineless but they start to appear just 2 – 3 minutes after being born! The name Hedgehog came into use around the year 1450 and is derived from ‘hedge’ as it frequents hedgerows and ‘hog’ from its pig like snout If a Hedgehog is sick or stressed its spines can fall out In 1974 a resident on the island of Uist in Scotland introduced a few Hedgehogs from the mainland into his garden to help control snails and slugs. Within a few years these multiplied to over 5000 Hedgehogs! These Hedgehogs in turn ate rare birds eggs and there is now an action plan to remove all Hedgehogs to the mainland, which is proving successful.