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BBC wildlife launched a poll in 2013 to search for Britain’s Wildlife Icon. Which animal emerged victorious and claimed the title? It is the hedgehog!
This spiny creature edged out the badger over a thousand votes. The other plant and animal species it bested include the red squirrel, oak tree, robin, otter, ladybird, swallow, water vole, and bluebell. While the result does not formally designate the cute critter as the country’s national species, it brings to people’s consciousness just how popular this animal is. (Another testament to its popularity is being number one on the RBS’s poll on Britain’s Favourite Mammal).
Why is the hedgehog so popular? Experts attribute its popularity to the fact that over the years this spiny mammal has earned a reputation for being friendly. Moreover, for a supposedly wild creature, hedgehogs are surprisingly tame, making it easy for people to bond with them. If you want to learn more about UK’s wildlife icon, we’ve listed some noteworthy hedgehog facts which could come in handy if you decide to adopt one.
Interesting Facts About Hedgehogs
1. Hedgehogs belong to the class Mammalia, under the subfamily Erinaceinae. It is a spiny critter which is often mistaken as a cousin of porcupine. While they both have spines, these animals are not genetically related.
2. They are capable of living in different habitats, from forests to deserts. In the UK, they can be found almost everywhere, except in the Scottish Isles. One of the best places to see hedgehogs in the UK is the Gilfach Farm in Wales. Additionally, they live on the ground and not atop trees. Some build nests and others settle on nests left by other animals like otters and foxes. Other hedgehogs dig burrows.
3. The hedgehog got its name because of the way it gathers its food. They meticulously go through hedges to search for insects, snails, worms, frogs and even snakes. As it walks slowly and carefully along these hedges, it makes a piglet-like sound.
4. Say hedgehog and spines come to mind for most people. Hence, it is safe to say that these spines, sometimes referred to as quills, are their most prominent feature. They are made up of keratin, the same protein which makes up our nails and hair. These modified hairs are hollow and dark in colour with tips which are yellow. On the average, hedgehogs have 5,000 spines. Each spine falls off after a year and new ones replace those which were shed.
5. To protect themselves, hedgehogs rely on their stiff spines. While these spines aren’t naturally poisonous, they are strong and sharp enough to deter predators. When threatened they usually curl into a ball to expose their spines and protect vulnerable body parts. They also assume this position when sleeping.
6. Most people think that hedgehog spines have poison. The truth is that they naturally do not contain venom. They only become poisonous because the hedgies coat these spines with other plant and animal poison like the venom from a frog’s skin.
7. These spiny mammals have poor eyesight. But they make up for this with their heightened sense of smell and excellent hearing. They are also good runners and climbers. They are likewise capable of swimming; some are even excellent swimmers. However, they may die due to exhaustion if they are not able to get out of the water. So, if you are caring for a hedgehog, make sure you do not leave it in the pool for an extended period of time.
8. If you want to spot them, it is more likely to happen at night when they search for food. This is because hedgehogs are nocturnal animals; hence, they spend their day sleeping. They also sleep a lot. They spend, at most, 18 hours per day just sleeping! In some cases, hedgehogs may be active during the day, particularly after some rain showers. Also, hedgehogs in the UK hibernate from November to mid-March. So, the best time to see them is during summer.
9. Females give birth to litters composed of 4-5 young. The birthing season usually takes place in April and September. Mothers protect the little ones from predators which include male hedgehogs. This is because, sometimes, males prey on the young. At times, even the mothers eat their babies, especially when their nest gets destroyed.
10. A young hedgehog is called a hoglet. These little hedgies stay with their mothers for just 4 to 13 weeks. During delivery, these spines are covered with a fluid-filled skin in order for the mother not to get hurt. This skin shrinks or disappears and around 150 spines crop up.
11. This animal is often referred to as a farmer’s friend because it kills pests which can harm crops. Moreover, hedgehogs have a voracious appetite. They can gobble up to 60 to 80 grams of pests. This is why they’re lauded as excellent pest controllers.
12. These spiky mammals may live up to 10 years. However, this is a rare occurrence, since many of them die after a year. Those living in the wild have a life expectancy of around two to three years.
13. In some folklore, they mention the hedgehog carrying fruits using its quills. The truth is that they do not use their spines to carry food; although, it is highly possible for fruits and leaves to get stuck on this prickly hair. Also, hedgehogs do not roll when they are curled into a ball. Lastly, they cannot shoot their spines.
14. If you are caring for a hedgehog, do not feed them milk because they are lactose intolerant. Instead, serve them meaty dog or cat food.
15. Hedgehogs used to be seen everywhere, even in gardens. However, a recent report says that is no longer the case with their population in the UK steadily declining. From around 30 million in the 1950s, there are now just a million left. Some of the reasons for their decline in number are destruction of habitat due to intensive farming and road accidents or deaths.
Hedgehog Curled Into A Ball
Image Attribution: By SumandaMaritz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Resource: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHedgehogball.jpg