Facts about Hedgehogs

Narrated by Spikey

Well, now you have met me and some of my new friends, here are lots of hedgehog facts that my grandma told me:

Hedgehog history

We hedgehogs have been walking around on the earth for almost 15 million years, and we have hardly changed at all. We are still very curious and love discovering new things, especially if we can eat them.

Did you know that there are 17 species of us? Yes, really…17! And we are spread all across the world. Why not research what different hedgehogs look like in Europe, Africa, Asia and New Zealand?

Hedgehog families

When we are babies, we are called ‘hoglets’.

Hedgehogs don’t stay together as a family like people often do. The mother brings up the hoglets until they are about six to eight weeks old, and then they all go their separate ways. 

We are not territorial, and we are not really social animals, as most of us like to do our own thing. Although you can often see more than one of us in a garden at the same time, that doesn’t mean we are all together in a family.

Hedgehog lifespan

If we have the chance, we can live for seven years in the wild and longer in the rescue centres. Seven might not seem old to you, but we are very, very happy to get to seven – and better still, eight!

Hedgehog bodies

When we are fully grown, we are from 8–12 inches (20–30 centimetres) long, which is about the length of a school ruler. I’m not as big as this, though.

We have between 5,000 and 6,500 creamy-white and brown spines sticking out of our bodies, and each of these spines can grow up to 2.5 centimetres long. Each of these lasts for about a year, then we shed them and grow new ones. We can also lose spines if we are stressed.

Now this is my favourite fact about hedgehogs. We can curl into a prickly little ball and stay there for hours, which is a great defence trick against most of our enemies. It is very clever, and we can do it because of the special muscles we have. I'm pretty good at doing this! When I curl up tight, all my body is tucked in and out of sight. Then it is very hard for anyone who wants to hurt me to get past my spikey Spikey defences!

Please tell grown-up humans to take great care when driving at night, because our tough spines can’t save us from car wheels, and we get run over.

Do you like snakes? We do! They are tasty to eat, but they can also be very dangerous because they can bite and squeeze. We have developed a natural resistance to snake venom, but they can still bite us on our noses or feet.

Most wild animals have other creepy crawlies living on them, such as ticks and fleas, but as long as we clean and groom ourselves regularly, it is perfectly OK. If you see a hedgehog that is full of ticks or fleas, it might mean they are ill. Please talk to a vet or hedgehog expert who will know what to do. Using a flea spray on us that's for dogs or cats can harm us, and we often need to be checked to see what else is wrong. Also, remember that our fleas don’t jump on you because they don’t like humans, dogs or cats! I don’t know why – maybe you taste different? Sadly, they only like us.

Hedgehog habits

We live in gardens, parks or woods, and we travel a long way at night looking for tasty meals. Hedgehogs sleep all day and wander at night. This is known as being ‘nocturnal’.

You humans are ‘diurnal’, which means you are awake during the day and asleep at night. I am like that. I am Spikey the diurnal hedgehog! This makes me special. I can have adventures and make friends with animals that are around during the day.

We like to sleep in wood piles as they are snug and warm. So please take special care when you are building your bonfires and check under any pile of leaves. We don’t really understand bonfires, and we think it is a cosy place for us to have a nap. Please check to see if one of us is hiding inside before you light it!

Hedgehog senses

We can’t see very well, but we make up for it with a good sense of hearing and excellent senses of smell and touch.

We chat to each other when we’re out and about, and our voices sound like snuffles, grunts and squeals.

Hedgehog eating habits

We are always hungry! If you see a hedgehog, you are looking at a hungry hedgehog. There is always room for one more blueberry. We like to eat beetles, caterpillars and a variety of insects, but if we are in your garden, you can help to feed us. You can put out meat-based cat or dog food that is either wet (tinned or sachets) or dry (biscuits); this is because we need a high-protein diet, and we like a variety of food – just like people do! You should always leave a shallow dish of water out too. Do you eat caterpillars and beetles too? I hope not, because that will leave more for us!

If you find one of my friends and they look a bit skinny, please try to fatten them up. We need to be fat to survive the winter. Our ideal weight in the autumn is no less than 450 grammes; we need to weigh at least this much to be able to sleep without eating anything for few months. This is called ‘hibernation’. It is not really proper sleep. Our bodies slow down their energy use during cold weather, when our natural food has disappeared, usually between November and mid-March. Then, we live off our fat, which we have built up when there is lots of food around.

When you see an underweight hedgehog, please look after them and fatten them up before winter arrives! If they don’t put on enough weight in time for hibernation, they must either stay awake at a rescue centre until the spring, when they can rejoin the other hedgehogs in a garden or a park, or risk hibernating and not wake up.

Remember – we hedgehogs are not pests, but we will happily gobble up the pests in your garden. If you leave slugs or snails to us, we will control them for you. Please don’t use slug pellets in your garden. These are dangerous for us because they contain poison. You see, we are, in fact, a gardener’s friend!

Please be tidy and clean up after yourself. As you now know, we love, love, love food! And human tins and pots are often full of tasty things that our snuffly noses can smell. Sometimes, we hedgehogs are too curious, and we get our heads stuck in pots or tins. This is not fun, and if we don’t get out, we can die.

Hedgehog exercise

You might be amazed to learn that we like to run. People often think we are really slow, but we can travel at a speed of 100–130 feet (30–40 metres) per minute. That is two miles (three kilometres) per hour! Some of us are quicker and can run six feet (two metres) per second, which is six miles (10 kilometres) per hour, and that might be even quicker than you! And you say our legs are short…

We can swim a little, but we can’t swim for very long. If you have a pond in your garden, please provide a little ramp so that there is a way for us to get out in case we jump or fall in.

We go for lots of long strolls, and we can cover up to one or two miles (that’s up to three kilometres) in one night.

The journey from one place to another in search of tasty food is always dangerous for us. Sometimes, it involves crossing a busy road. All grandma hedgehogs say, ‘Be very careful on roads!’ but not every hoglet listens.

Attracting hedgehogs

Do you want to attract hedgehogs into your garden? If so, read this carefully so you’ll know what to do:

  • Provide us with a shelter by creating wild areas of dead leaves and rotten wood in your garden where we can be warm and safe. If you built us a hedgehog house, we would like that very, very much.
  • Don’t forget to make a tunnel to a neighbour’s garden that we can use, because as you know, we like to wander long distances. Do this by removing one brick from a wall or cutting a hole really low down in a fence so we can squeeze through.

If you do these things, you could see as many as 10 different hedgehogs in your garden at night, all at the same time.

And finally...

Please look after us. We are your spikey friends and the UK’s only spiny mammal. We are also one of the UK’s best-loved wild animals, but we are disappearing very quickly. There used to be 30 million hedgehogs in the UK only 70 years ago, but now there are thought to be only 1.5 million of us left. I’d like there to be lots more of us in the world once again!