Hedgehogs are small spiny mammals which in appearance may look like a combination of a small rat and porcupine although in reality they are different from both these animals. The Hedgehogs have got their name owing to the pig-like grunt they emit while hunting for food. For this reason they are at times also referred to as hedgepigs.
Naturally found in parts of Europe, Asia & Africa, and introduced in New Zealand and Scotland, there are seventeen recorded species of the hedgehog. Primarily nocturnal, hedgehogs (at least most of the species) sleep throughout the day, although there are some species which may be more or less active during the day. Hedgehogs are known to be fairly vocal and depending on the species communicate through a combination of grunts, snuffles and/or squeals.
Hedgehogs have a coat of quills like that of a porcupine, although the former’s quills are much lower in number – around 6000 to that of the latter’s 30000. However unlike the porcupine, the hedgehog’s quills are very dull, not barbed and hence are not dangerous at all, but they may cause some irritation or infection.
The hedgehog does use its quills to protect itself from predators. When threatened, it curls into a prickly ball whereby the parts of its body not covered with quills (face, belly and feet) are not visible. This mechanism deters most predators, which include the likes of owls, ferrets, foxes, wolves and mongooses. In fact, hedgehogs usually sleep in this curled-up position during the day and awaken at night in search of food. Hedgehogs cannot see very well, but this is more than compensated for as they have good ears coupled with a great sense of smell. Earlier categorized as insectivores, hedgehogs were subsequently put in the omnivorous category as they feed on insects as well as vegetation. Studies also show that it is not unusual for an adult male hedgehog to kill its own newborns. In fact, hedgehog mothers have also been known to eat their young-ones in some cases.
A somewhat surprising fact is that much like the humans, the hedgehogs also suffer from diseases like cancer, liver and cardiovascular diseases, with cancer being a very common ailment. During sickness or when under extreme stress, hedgehogs can also lose their quills. Hedgehogs have an average lifespan of 3-7 years (depending on the species) in their natural habitat, which may go up to 10 years or more when domesticated with care. Hedgehogs’ ability to prey on many common garden pests is often cited as the key reason for their being used as pets. It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in parts of US, Canada states, the UK and Scandinavia in Europe.