Your Prickly Pal, the Hedgehog

Hedgehogs seem like rather odd creatures at first. Rather than being covered in soft fur like one would expect a small mammal to be, their hides bristle with a formidable set of quills. They are best known for being the focus of a very popular Sega video game franchise, but other than that the average person is rather hedgehog illiterate. We are here to rectify that so prepare yourself for a little bit of Hedgehog 101.

Are hedgehogs related to porcupines?

Both hedgehogs and porcupines share a covering of sharp, keratinous quills made from modified hair, but they are actually unrelated. Porcupines are rodents whereas as hedgehogs are more closely related to animals like shrews. This is an example of convergent evolution. There are some differences in the quills, as those of porcupines are much longer, barbed at the tip, and easily detached from the skin. Those of of hedgehogs are permanently fixed. Contrary to popular belief, hedgehog quills are neither poisonous nor capable of being shot as arrows.

Are hedgehogs related to true hogs?

Despite having “hog” as part of their name, hedgehogs are not related to pigs. The word hedgehog first came into popular usage in the mid 1400’s. It originates from the fact that the animals are frequently found in hedgerows and that their snout vaguely resembles that of a pig. They are also sometimes referred to as urchins or hedgepigs.

Why do hedgehogs have quills?

A hedgehog uses its quills as a form of defensive armor. When confronted by a predator, such as a mustelid, fox, or bird of prey, they will roll into a ball and erect their quills. This makes the animal harder to swallow and protects its vulnerable underbelly. Different species of hedgehog have different amounts of quills, making the effectiveness of this tactic variable. Some desert species with fewer spines are more likely to run away from danger or even attempt to stab an attacker.

What do hedgehogs eat?

Hedgehogs are omnivores and rely on their acute sense of smell to find food. The bulk or their diet consists of insects and other invertebrates such as worms, spiders, and snails. There are also fond of fruit, especially berries, eggs, and mushrooms. Thanks to an inherent resistance to toxins, there are even known to prey on venomous snakes and poisonous toads.

Where do hedgehogs live?

Hedgehogs can be found across a wide range of Europe, Africa, and Asia. They inhabit a variety of habitats including woodlands, savannah, forests, and deserts. Due to their small size hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, spending daylight hours hidden beneath bushes, within rock crevices, or in underground burrows.

Are hedgehogs endangered?

None of the 17 species of hedgehog are endangered. In fact, they are all classified as least concern. Hedgehogs are frequently found around human habitation scavenging for garbage.  Several species, such as the African pygmy hedgehog and the Algerian, have been domesticated. While initially kept for their meat and quills, today hedgehogs are popular as exotic pets. However, they are not legal in all countries and states. In New Zealand and Scotland, hedgehogs have become established as invasive species.

 

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