Hedgehogs are our only spiny mammals. They have a short inconspicuous tail, small ears and relatively long legs, which are all covered with dense, sharp, brown spines. When they are alarmed, they protect themselves by rolling up into a defensive ball and effectively fend off any lurking predators.
They are active at night or sometimes after heavy rainfall, and rely heavily on their keen sense of smell to find food, to recognise other hedgehogs or to sense danger.
Hedgehogs travel large distances every night and stop to feed at various places on the way. They are often regarded as slow animals but, if they want to, they can move up to 40m in a minute, which is no mean feat considering their size!
During cold winters, when food becomes scarce, hedgehogs conserve energy by making a nest in a sheltered spot and then becoming inactive by dropping their heart beat from 190 to 20 beats per minute. Their body temperature drops from 37C to near freezing. This is called ‘hibernation’ and the amount of time they remain like this really depends on the weather.
The hedgehog breeding season generally lasts from April until September. Females are usually pregnant for about four and a half weeks and then give birth to up to seven pink, sightless young in a nest made of grass and leaves. Soon after birth, the young grow short white spines, which they lose within a few weeks when the brown spines grow through. They feed on the mother’s milk and become independent at two months old.
Worms, beetles, caterpillars, slugs and snails.
Hedgehogs need overgrown hedgerows and woodland edges to nest and rough pasture to find food. They tend not to live in wet areas or large pine forests.
Predators & threats
Badgers and foxes occasionally eat hedgehogs. Many are killed on roads or killed as a result of eating poisonous slug pellets used in gardens.
Status & distribution
Hedgehogs are found throughout the British Isles, including urban areas, but not on some of the Scottish Islands. They are common and widely distributed but are in severe decline, both in the countryside and in our towns and cities.