Hi and welcome to my short blog about the weird but wonderful hedgehog.
I really love hedgehogs, they are such an unusual looking little creature, not easy to hold or handle but still really cute – isn’t that strange in its own right!
Well where to start; how about the name, what a strange name it is and where did it come from?
The lovely hedgehog got its name from its unusual behaviour whilst foraging for food. Hedgehogs are carnivorous and eat a wide range of insects, invertebrates such as slugs (gardeners friends) and even small animals like snakes and frogs. They are nocturnal creatures and a good source for their nightly hunting is found inside hedges and hedgerows, so this is where they go digging and rooting around for food, whilst they are engaged in foraging for food they make small pig like grunting sounds – Hence the unusual name.
As well as a strange name, they also have a strange appearance. Most of the topside of their body is covered in spines; these spines are actually modified and highly specialised hairs, which have developed over thousands of years during the evolutionary process. Hedgehogs use these spines for protection against predators. When going about their normal business the spines lay flat and they are streamlined away from the head towards the tail. When they feel threatened they erect their spines and curl into a defensive ball, which protects their soft underside, presenting the attacker with a ball of sharp spikes to contend with – enough to put most off!
The spines are erected by muscles: there is also a smooth ball at the base of the spines that bends on impact – all in all a pretty good system. The spines are hollow and lightweight and they are shed and replaced similar to hair, except less frequently. Spines last for about a year before they are replaced.
Hedgehogs also have some very strange behaviour – firstly hibernation, in colder climates like the UK hedgehogs hibernate over winter. They build a nest of leaves under a protected area and go to sleep there for the winter. This is a very vulnerable time for them if they do not locate their nest well. In order to survive the winter they need to eat as much as they can and fatten up during the autumn.
A second very strange behaviour is, that when they are stimulated by scent or taste, they lick themselves all over covering themselves with foamy saliva. It isn’t understood why they do this. Perhaps they are just weird!
Unfortunately hedgehogs don’t have a very long lifespan, this is primarily due to the difficult environmental conditions that they are born into. There is a very high infant mortality rate, where a large proportion never leave the nest. Once out of the nest their chances get better, with the next big challenge being their first hibernation, where again many are lost. If they make it through the first hibernation their chances of survival improve greatly. The approximate lifespan for a hedgehog in the wild is about 3 years. They can live to 5 years but this is old for a wild hedgehog. However with help from us and good living conditions such as in a hedgehog sanctuary, they can live for much longer and may live up to 10 years, although this is very rare.
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