The hedgehog has been snuffling around our gardens and woodlands in the UK for centuries. Sightings of these native animals have been recorded since the Middle Ages. But spotting one now can be difficult, as they are shy and cautious around humans. And being nocturnal, it is all the more special when you do see one in your garden.
Here’s 8 facts about hedgehogs
What’s in a name?
Hedgehog is an amalgam of ‘hedge’ and ‘hog’ and was so named due to its liking for snuffling in hedgerows. It also has a piglike snout, which probably helped with its naming! The hedgehog has also been known by other names, including hedgepig and furzepig. But perhaps its cutest name is ‘urchin’, which in turn may have inspired the naming of Sea Urchins.
Hedgehogs are solitary animals, rarely spending time with others of their own species. They gain independence from their mothers at 4-7 weeks and do not socialise with other hedgehogs at all until mating time. The rare sight of a number of hedgehogs together is called an array.
Hedgehogs will eat almost anything. Worms, insects, caterpillars and berries are all favourites of the hedgehog, although they will also eat snails and slugs. This appetite for the garden ‘pests’ that munch on homegrown veggies make them a good friend to the gardener and allotment holder. Hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant, which means they can’t digest milk.
As anyone who has witnessed the nightly shuffles of a hedgehog can confirm, these small creatures make a surprising amount of noise! Snuffles and grunts accompany their foraging, whilst a loud squeak indicates fear or alarm.
Hedgehogs hibernate for the winter, which means they need to store as much fat as possible before autumn. Hibernation may not always happen. It is triggered by outside factors and a mild winter may mean hedgehogs remain up and about throughout the colder season. Many people like to leave food out for them and although mealworms are often recommended, they should be avoided. Try tinned dog or cat food instead (but not fish based). The ‘hogs like to make their nests in mounds of leaves, which can make them vulnerable as Bonfire Night approaches. Gardeners are always encouraged to check piles of leaves before disturbing or burning.
The hedgehog protects itself by rolling into a tight, spiky ball. This hides its sensitive and vulnerable face and belly. A mature hedgehog has around 5000-7000 spines upon its back, which can be raised and lowered when the hedgehog feels threatened. Each spine lasts around a year, after which it drops and is replaced.
Badgers and foxes are the main predators of hedgehogs, despite their spiny defence system, and British Hedgehog Rescue societies will avoid releasing hedgehogs into known badger territories. Human behaviour can also play a part in hedgehog life; humans often disturb habitats and large numbers of hedgehogs are killed by cars each year. In urban environments, they like to wander between gardens so small gaps between neighbouring fences can help hedgehogs find all the food they need.
Helping hedgehogs thrive
Hedgehogs are in decline at the moment and it is possible that there are less than a million hedgehogs left in the UK at the moment. But there are things we can do to help hedgehogs thrive, even in urban environments.
- try not to use any pesticides in your garden; slug pellets may be harmful to hedgehogs
- leave food out for them during late summer and autumn – mealworms are a favourite but tinned dog or cat food is also acceptable (although not fish-based)
- never leave milk out for them – they are lactose-intolerant
- make sure there is a shallow bowl of water for them to drink from
If you’d like to know more about hedgehogs or you’d like to help prevent their decline, take a look at Hedgehog Street. They have a lot of information to share and practical ways you can help out.