In Alice in Wonderland, the Red Queen uses a flamingo as a mallet and a hedgehog as a ball to play croquet. When the queen misses a shot, the hedgehog curls into itself and rolls through hoops of cards to keep her entertained.
Hedgehogs aren’t that helpless and pure in real life, as you’ll discover in this article. Read on to learn about the hedgehog life cycle and all the fascinating facets of its existence.
Facts About the Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are so named because they often scout for food through hedges and snort like pigs. There are 17 known species of hedgehogs native to parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Here’s everything you should know about the interesting life of a hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are squat, pocket-sized mammals with beady eyes and long snouts. Most species have tiny ears, except for the long-eared hedgehogs.
They have coarse fur around their faces, necks, and bellies. Their long legs and curved claws make them efficient diggers.
Hedgehogs wear a blanket of spikes interchangeably called spines or quills. One hedgehog has about 6,000 quills on its body, making it look like a walking pincushion.
Their quills are stiff and hollow, like the shaft of a feather, and have bands of white, brown, or black. They contain the same protein found in human hair and skin, known as keratin.
European hedgehogs are turf-dwellers living in grasslands, hedgerows, and suburban gardens. Elsewhere in the world, they meander through deserts and savannas.
Hedgehogs line their nesting sites with dry leaves, grass, and twigs. In the deserts, they burrow into the sand or hide between rocks to escape the heat and cover themselves from predators.
Hedgehogs have a large appetite for insects, which is why they’re called insectivores. However, it doesn’t mean their diet relies on crickets, beetles, or grasshoppers alone.
As backyard volunteers, they love to feast on other common garden pests. Slugs, mice, centipedes, frogs, and birds are all tasty snacks for them.
Plus, hedgehogs always have a space for eggs, fruits, and fungi in their tummies. If they chance upon a snake, even a poisonous one, they will wear it out before sinking their tiny teeth into its flesh.
For such small critters, they can eat up a third of their weight in one night. They’re so voracious that they’re considered a threat to native wildlife in New Zealand!
Like badgers and bats, hedgehogs are nocturnal animals. After nightfall, they head out to forage and cover a track of up to two miles from their nest.
They have poor eyesight and rely on their sharp sense of smell and hearing when they hunt. They stay in the same nest for a few days before moving to a new location.
Hedgehogs are also solitary creatures. They prefer their own company when out and about.
The only time they socialize is when they mate, after which the male hedgehogs leave at once.
Unlike the video game character Sonic the Hedgehog, these adorable creatures don’t morph into a speedy rolling ball in the face of danger. They don’t shoot their quills like projectiles, either.
Instead, hedgehogs survive in the wild through their unique characteristics and abilities.
Whenever they feel attacked or disturbed, hedgehogs thrust their spines upwards in a criss-cross pattern and curl up. Their sharp quills also fend off predators while they sleep.
They have a specialized muscle that contracts into a bag and cradles their entire body when they ball up.
These spiked creatures have such effective built-in armor that a weapon was named after them. The “Hedgehog” is an anti-submarine projector with rows of launcher spigots, resembling the animal’s spines.
When hedgehogs encounter an unfamiliar taste, they froth in their mouths and smear their backs with their saliva. Experts say hedgehogs do this to hide their natural scent or tinge their quills with potential toxins in case of an attack.
Other theories mention triggering smells and sexual behavior to explain this mysterious ritual.
Hedgehogs are immune to some types of snake venom. They have antibodies that neutralize the venom’s fatal effects.
While other creatures may suffer from internal bleeding, hedgehogs get away unscathed.
Hedgehogs breed after their first year. Females don’t menstruate, but they ovulate during mating.
Both genders show promiscuity, which means they have multiple mates in one season. A litter of babies can have different fathers, which is beneficial for ensuring a better genetic stock.
The typical breeding season begins in May. Because the gestation period lasts around 35 days, females give birth between June and July.
Once or twice a year, a female gives birth to five to seven babies called hoglets. A second litter born in September will have a tough time reaching adequate weight for hibernation during winter.
Keep reading to learn about the life of a hedgehog from birth to adulthood.
The first month of a hedgehog’s life is a period of rapid changes. In the second month, it begins to transition into a new, exciting phase as a juvenile.
Right after birth, newborns look like pink blobs with soft quills underneath wet, puffy skin. Some babies may appear bruised.
After several hours, their skin shrinks and reveals about 150 white, flexible quills.
Babies don’t open their eyes until the third week. They have folds in their neck and belly, and their nose and ears aren’t defined.
If the nest is disturbed, the mother may get upset and feel threatened. It may lead her to abandon her litter or eat them. Yikes!
Thankfully, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the mother will carry her babies to a new nesting site away from perceived danger.
Babies begin to sprout peach fuzz on their bellies. Their quills harden as their facial features take on more detail.
Some babies experience quilling, where they shed some spines to make way for harder ones. Those whose quills develop pigment will grow into dark-colored hedgehogs.
Babies stay close to their nest and rely on their mother’s milk for sustenance. Towards the end of the week, the mother may venture away for short breaks.
Babies are still at risk of being eaten alive if the mother thinks their nest is in danger.
Babies begin to open their eyes and explore their surroundings. Their teeth show in a few days, and their fur becomes thicker.
They continue to develop and change color in their quills and around their snout. They still very much undergo quilling.
Babies will exhibit anointing when they’re introduced to new food. During this time, they writhe and stick out their foamy tongues.
They’ll contort their tiny bodies and deposit spittle onto their backs.
Around this time, hoglets have dense, darker quills. Their sharper teeth may prompt their mother to start weaning them.
Because their eyes are now fully open, the mother takes them out on foraging trips and shows them how to hunt. When someone gets separated, they twitter or squeak to get their mother’s attention.
Male babies may show sexual interest in their mothers. Although rare, they can get her pregnant this early.
The risk of in-breeding increases as the male hoglets grow older.
It is the earliest time that hoglets get weaned and wander off alone. During this time, their personalities shine.
Some are ready to take on the challenges of living away from their mothers. Others aren’t so keen on independence.
Juvenile hedgehogs are in the awkward stage when they’re old enough to leave their mothers but too young to hibernate on their own.
By the seventh and eighth months, adolescent males develop sexual maturity and can get their mothers pregnant. This can force the females to have a second litter too late in the season.
The average lifespan of wild hedgehogs is two to three years, while those in captivity live around three to seven years.
Unsurprisingly, hedgehogs have to face many obstacles and predators in the wilderness. Food scarcity and diseases are also huge threats to their survival.
Hedgehogs sleep for hours on end during the day and wake up around dusk. They go on a nightly excursion within range of their temporary home to find food.
Hedgehogs may take brief rests, but nursing females are constantly on the move throughout the night. Heavy rains can slow down their movement and reduce their activity.
Their sense of direction and homing skills are impressive. For a few days, foraging hedgehogs always find their way back to their nests.
They move further away when they discover new sources of food, by which time they must also create a new nest.
Hedgehogs build up their fat reserves during eight months of continuous activity from April to November. This is in preparation for hibernation from November to March.
As soon as the temperature plummets and the food supply runs thin, hedgehogs will find a dry and safe place to brave the extreme cold. These winter shelters are called hibernacula.
During hibernation, hedgehogs don’t only sleep, but they also lower their temperature to match their environment. They enter a state of torpor, where all their bodily functions slow down to preserve their energy.
After hedgehogs come out of hibernation, they eat a lot to replenish lost weight and get in the best shape for mating.
Male hedgehogs start the lengthy courting ritual by circling the females. The females play hard to get and make rhythmic grunting and huffing noises.
This attracts other males to the scene, which can cause quite a ruckus. Competing males will jostle each other, and sometimes a chase ensues.
Eventually, mating happens and females may get pregnant. Male hedgehogs never take part in childbirth and raising babies.
Hedgehogs spend most of their lives in solitude. Their existence revolves around long periods of constant activity that come to an abrupt halt during winter.
In the wild, the hedgehog life cycle has its fair share of challenges. The good thing is you can make things easier for them by providing them access to your garden.
Hedgehogs are always on the lookout for shelter and food. It won’t hurt to keep a pile of dry branches in a quiet corner of your backyard.
While you’re at it, you can also leave out a handful of dog or cat kibble to supplement their natural diet. They need all the help they can get, especially before and after hibernation.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. I have a wife and two children and love taking them to the zoo to see all the animals. I grew up with dogs and fish and now have two dogs and two cats. I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.