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“What Even is a Hedgehog Anyway?” by Hanna Vlasenko

June 2024

Photo of ESOL student Hanna Vlasenko

What Even is a Hedgehog Anyway?

by Hanna Vlasenko

When we think of hedgehogs, most of us picture a small, spiky creature curled up into a ball. But what exactly is a hedgehog?

Let’s dive into the fascinating world of this unique animal.

The Basics: Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are small, nocturnal mammals known for their distinctive spines. These spines, often mistaken for quills, are actually hardened hairs made of keratin, the same protein that makes up human hair and nails. Unlike porcupine quills, hedgehog spines are not barbed and do not detach easily from their bodies. When threatened, hedgehogs roll into a tight ball, making their spines a formidable defense against predators.

Species and Habitat

There are 17 different species of hedgehogs, found across Europe, Asia, and Africa. The European hedgehog is probably the most well-known, often found in gardens and hedgerows throughout Europe. African pygmy hedgehogs, a hybrid of two species, have become popular pets in recent years due to their small size and relatively docile nature.

Hedgehogs are highly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of environments, from forests and grasslands to deserts. They are solitary creatures, preferring to go about their nocturnal activities alone, except during mating season.

Diet and Behavior

Hedgehogs are primarily insectivores, feeding on a diet of insects, worms, and other invertebrates. They also consume a variety of other foods, including fruits, vegetables, and even small vertebrates when available. This varied diet helps them survive in different habitats and conditions.

Being nocturnal, hedgehogs spend their nights foraging for food and their days sleeping in nests made of leaves, grass, and other vegetation. They have a keen sense of smell and hearing, which compensates for their relatively poor eyesight.

Conservation and Challenges

Despite their widespread distribution, hedgehogs face numerous challenges. Habitat loss, traffic accidents, and pesticides pose significant threats to their populations. In some areas, particularly in the UK, hedgehog numbers have declined sharply in recent years, prompting conservation efforts.

Organizations and individuals are working to create hedgehog-friendly environments by providing safe nesting sites, reducing pesticide use, and raising awareness about the dangers of roads. Simple actions, like building hedgehog houses or ensuring there are gaps in garden fences for hedgehogs to pass through, can make a big difference.

Conclusion

Hedgehogs are fascinating creatures with a rich history and an important role in our ecosystems. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a pet owner, or just curious about these spiky mammals, there’s always more to learn about hedgehogs. By understanding and protecting them, we can ensure that these charming animals continue to thrive in the wild and in our hearts.

So, next time you hear rustling in the underbrush at night, remember: it might just be a hedgehog going about its nightly adventures.