The hedgehog is a prickly and noisy mammal
Hedgehogs are fascinating animals with their pointed snouts and noisy eating habits. They are nocturnal animals that forage for food at night. The mammals can be seen at dusk and at night and feed on insects, snails and earthworms. The excrement will be the first to reveal that a hedgehog has visited the garden. A nursing mother hedgehog that can be seen in the garden during the day means that the garden is fulfilling the hedgehog’s wishes. The hedgehog has a protected status in the Netherlands and Belgium, like several countries in Europe.
- The Hedgehog
- Characteristics of the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
- The spines
- Jacobson’s organ
- Eat some hedgehogs
- The mating
- The hedgehog babies
- A hedgehog in the garden
The hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), also known as Western European hedgehog, is a mammal belonging to the hedgehog family (Erinaceidae) and the genus Erinaceus. The hedgehog is found in Western Europe, including the Netherlands and Belgium, and has three other congeners of the genus Erinaceus in Europe. The types:
- White-breasted hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor) is found in Turkey and surrounding regions;
- Eastern European hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus) is found in Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Western Siberia;
- The Amur hedgehog (Erinaceus amurensis) lives in eastern Russia, China and the Korean Peninsula.
Erinaceus europaeus X Erinaceus roumanicus
The Eastern European hedgehog and the Western European hedgehog have the possibility that they interbreed. Erinaceus europaeus X Erinaceus roumanicus. Both species look alike, but the Western European hedgehog has a white v-shaped spot (mask) on the face and the Eastern European hedgehog has the same color face, chest and throat. Furthermore, the Eastern European hedgehog is smaller than the Western European hedgehog.
Although they both have spines, hedgehogs and porcupines are not related. Hedgehogs are insectivores, porcupines are rodents. The porcupine is found in the north of Africa.
Characteristics of the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
The adult hedgehog is between 20 and 30 centimeters and weighs between 800 and 1,200 grams. Hedgehogs are active at dusk and at night and during the day they hide. Hedgehogs are found in deciduous forests, parks and gardens. The hedgehog has a short and broad-built body, a pointed head, four short legs and hidden between the spines, a small tail. When walking, the belly is close to the ground because the legs are curved, which sometimes makes it seem as if the hedgehog has no legs. Each leg has five toes that are provided with a claw. At the tip of the pointed head is the nose which is very well developed. The ears are small and barely visible, but the hedgehog has very good hearing. The small, round and black eyes are sideways in the face and do not see everything. Hedgehogs have 36 sharp-pointed teeth and molars, two of which are strikingly large incisors in the lower jaw, which are needed to break insect shells. The teeth wear out quickly due to sand, stones and soil that the animals ingest with the food. In older hedgehogs, the teeth are often broken or disappeared. Hedgehogs can live up to 8 years old.
The most characteristic of hedgehogs are the spines on the back and flanks. The spines are colored brown at the base and light colored at the top. The number of spines depends on the age. A young hedgehog has about 3,500 spines and an adult hedgehog has an average of 7,000 spines. The highly developed muscle layer under the skin with spines, the hedgehog can contract, the head and legs are retracted and the hedgehog, in danger, becomes a spiky ball that cannot be controlled by enemies. Below the muscle layer is a layer of fat where the hedgehog stores reserve food to get through the winter. The hedgehog’s face, legs and belly are covered with a short hairy and yellowish to brown coat. The hairs on the flanks are noticeably longer and this is where they can sense ground vibrations.
In addition to feeling ground vibrations, a particularly good hearing, a well-developed sense of smell and an excellent sense of touch and taste, the hedgehog has a sixth sense: the Jacobson’s organ. An extra olfactory organ between the palate and the nasal cavity that examines unknown substances or new smells.
Hedgehogs will smell or gnaw an unknown substance or odor and then create a large amount of foamy saliva. The unknown substance such as blueberries, dog poo or a strongly scented plant species, together with the foamy saliva of the hedgehog, are made into a pulpy mass and smeared over the spines. We call this self-anointing behavior or self-anointing. The hedgehog then gives off a strong, often unpleasant odor and is unaware of the environment for a few minutes to several hours. Little is known about why the hedgehog displays this behavior in 2019. Speculations are to scare the enemy, applying a personal body odor, mutual communication or sexual behavior.
The older hedgehogs go into hibernation around the end of November or the beginning of December and only when it gets really cold the younger hedgehog builds the winter nest. Hedgehogs build the winter nest from the fallen autumn leaves, ferns, grass, straw and twigs from the area, under a compost pile, in a shed, under a thorn hedge or an abandoned nest cavity. In the autumn period, the weight of the hedgehog can increase from 1600 grams to 2000 grams, in preparation for hibernation. The hedgehog rolls up in the winter nest and its body temperature drops from 34 degrees Celsius to 2 to 5 degrees Celsius. The breathing decreases, whereby the hedgehog also does not breathe for a long time and breathes very quickly for a short time. The heart rate slows down from 150 beats per minute to 10 beats per minute. In this dormant state, the hedgehog sometimes becomes equally active as a result of a temperature change or because something is wrong with the nest or foraging, only to become inactive again. When the outside temperature is around ten to twelve degrees Celsius in the spring, the circulation, body temperature and respiration slowly return to normal levels, and the hedgehog leaves the winter nest in March-April. The male cones begin hibernation earlier and emerge earlier than the females in the spring.
Eat some hedgehogs
The hedgehog is an insectivore and with its pointed snout, the hedgehog searches between the fallen leaves, grass pollen and loose soil for insects, earthworms, spiders, beetles and small vertebrates. The invertebrates are preferred. The hedgehog can eat more than eighty earthworms and / or beetles in one hour and can consume about seventy grams of food in one night. Beetles are first bitten to death before being eaten and worms are eaten alive. The hedgehog also eats small eggs, mushrooms, fruits and berries. Hedgehogs are noisy eaters and devour the food with loud crunching, snorting, smacking and slurping. In case of danger, the hedgehog will make a grunting sound and a whistling sound when mating. Other sounds can be squeaks, hisses and chirps.
A clear indication that there is (or has been) a hedgehog in the garden is the black excrement. A hedgehog’s droppings are round and about three to five centimeters long and one centimeter thick and appear slightly glittery due to the shiny beetle shells. Small birds or small mammals produce bones and hair in the feces, so the feces have a solid structure. Grains of sand or small stones have come along when eating snails or worms.
After hibernation, the production of hormones starts to grow in the male hedgehog. In early April, the male catches the scent of a rutting female and visits her. Grunting and sniffing with his nose turned towards her, he starts walking around her, dancing. When the female decides to take the advances, she reacts aggressively. She puts on her spines and shows no interest. The male has to show that he is a good mate and when the female finally gives in, mating is short-lived. During mating the animals make noisy sniffing and sneezing noises and after mating both animals go their separate ways.
The hedgehog babies
Hedgehogs can mate from April to September, but most young hedgehogs are born in June. After mating, the male has left and the female builds the nest on her own in a well-hidden place. An old hole or an empty space under a compost pile or hedge. After five weeks, an average of five to seven youngsters are born. The weight at birth is 8 to 25 grams and the young are born deaf, blind and without spines. Only after one day after birth do about a hundred white spines appear, which fall out again after six weeks and make way for the brown spines. The babies receive breast milk for the first few weeks. To maintain her strength, mother hedgehog regularly leaves the nest during the day, during the nursing period, to look for insects. The healthy nocturnal hedgehog that we can see during the day is therefore a mother hedgehog. By the third week, the young hedgehogs will have milk teeth and exchange them for permanent teeth after two to three months. When the young hedgehogs are about two months old they have to fend for themselves.
Stressed out mother hedgehog
When a nest is disturbed (touched by humans) or manages to penetrate a male hedgehog, the mother will leave or even eat her young.
A hedgehog in the garden
The hedgehog is a protected animal in most of Europe and is listed as a species in Appendix III of the Berne Convention, an international list of wild animal species and their sometimes transboundary habitat. Hedgehogs are natural fighters against pests such as caterpillars, snails and maggots.
How do you get a hedgehog in the garden?
A hedgehog in the garden provides a natural balance. To get a hedgehog in the garden you have:
- the leaves, branches and tree stumps lie;
- make a compost heap where the mother hedgehog can make a nest and never clean up the compost heap without first checking that no hedgehog is using it;
- snail pellets and / or insect killers. This is deadly for hedgehogs in the long run;
- do not throw cans and cups that hedgehogs can get stuck in.
Do you prefer a tidy garden or a garden that is too small for a compost heap? A hedgehog nest box is for sale or can be made yourself.
If a hedgehog sleeps in the garden and it is a severe winter with peaks of severe frost, it makes sense to feed the hedgehog. Hedgehogs are happy with muesli, fruit, peanut butter, cat or dog food or special hedgehog food. Do not put down a saucer of milk because hedgehogs cannot digest this properly, but also let the hedgehog drink the water in the bird drinking bowl.
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