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Woodcroft Wildspace

Woodcroft

London     

N21 3QP

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THE HEDGEHOG

THE EUROPEAN HEDGEHOG (Erinaceus europaeus) a.k.a. hedgepig, furze-pig, is the only spiny mammal in the UK. The upper parts of the head and body are covered in short, yellow-tipped spines - adults may have up to 5000 spines. It is 15-30cm long depending on age. The tail measures about 1-2cm. They weigh up to 2kg and are heaviest in the autumn. Hedgehogs have 5 toes on their front paws with short nails. However, on their back paws they have 4 toes with long, constantly growing nails. They have these characteristics because they burrow.

Hedgehogs hibernate during the winter months and they need to weigh at least 450g or they are not fat enough to last the winter. Hibernation usually begins about November and ends around Easter, but is much affected by the weather. The winter nest (hibernaculum) is made of leaves, tucked under a bush or log pile or garden shed, anywhere that offers support and protection. This is why people planning a bonfire on November 5th should check for hedgehogs before lighting the fire. Hedgehogs normally wake up several times over winter and often build a new nest.

The hedgehog is common in farmland, parks, and gardens throughout Britain and Ireland. It has also been introduced to many islands including Orkney, Shetland, Isle of Man and some of the Channel Islands. Hedgehogs prefer woodland edges, hedgerows and suburban habitats where there is plenty of food for them.

Hedgehogs are quite vocal, and communicate not only in a series of grunts and snuffles, but sometimes in loud squeals (depending on species).

Hedgehogs eat caterpillars, slugs, beetles and worms and almost anything they can catch, but they are not fond of plants. They will take eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. They love to eat cat or dog food (dry or wet) put out for them by humans.

Females have litters of 4-5 young (sometimes more), between April and September. Males do not assist in rearing them. Young born late often die, being too small to survive hibernation.

Hedgehogs travel about at night, usually about 1-2km. The males travel more than females. They return to the same daytime nest for a few days then use another, perhaps returning to an old nest at a later date. The travelling habit results in many getting killed by vehicles on the road as they are slow moving and difficult to see.

More than 50% of hedgehogs die before their first birthday, and the average life expectancy is about 2-3 years, though they can live for up to 10 years. Hedgehogs carry several diseases, but none that are dangerous to humans. They carry fleas, but they are not the same sort as found on cats or dogs.

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