Familiar to many as a regular visitor to urban
gardens, the hedgehog’s body is covered
with several thousand spines. Each spine is
dark brown, but pale at the tip and the base,
giving the hedgehog a grizzled appearance.
Around the face and on the belly the coarse fur is pale and hedgehogs have a dark, pointed, and mobile nose. Albino hedgehogs are not unusual. Male and female hedgehogs are similar in size at about 230 mm long with a tail of another 25 mm. Depending on the time of year an adult can weigh up 2 kg, although 0.8 to 1.2 kg is more usual.
Although while foraging in the undergrowth the hedgehog appears low to the ground, it can exhibit a surprising burst of speed when it extends its legs and runs across open areas. When threatened the hedgehog rolls itself into a ball and erects its spines to deter all but the most determined predators. The hedgehog’s skin contains highly specialised muscles which erect the spines and also close the edge of the spiny area to cover the rest of the body.
Hedgehog droppings are about 10 mm in diameter and 15 to 50 mm long. They are dark grey or black and often shiny pieces of insect wing can be seen. Droppings are deposited randomly, and often in the
open, and do not have a noticeable scent.
show 5 long,
both front and
back and are
about 40 mm
© David Chapman
In the 1980s hedgehogs were introduced into St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly. With no natural predators the numbers
increased rapidly and they now pose a threat to many of the islands’ indigenous species, including ground-nesting birds, shrews and beetles.
Hedgehogs are commonest in lowland areas wherever there is cover for shelter and
nesting. They are scarce in marsh and moorland and in coniferous woodland. They are particularly noticeable in urban areas, which may now be an important habitat as changes in agricultural practices have made life more difficult for the hedgehog in
farmland. Their preferred habitat is grassland close to woodland or hedgerows.
Hedgehogs are solitary and nocturnal and they occupy overlapping ranges of between
10 and 30 ha, often travelling more than 1 km in an evening. They hunt by scent and
sound, and feed primarily on ground-dwelling invertebrates. Beetles, caterpillars, and worms are favoured, but they also take slugs and snails as well as occasionally
predating the nests of ground-dwelling birds.
The hedgehog builds several domed summer nests of grass, moss and leaves in hedgerows and woodland as daytime refuges and for breeding. In the winter they build hibernation nests, up to 600 mm across, in tree roots, old rabbit burrows or excavated in compost heaps. These nests are made of neatly packed grass, bracken and leaves. The hedgehog retires to this nest between October and March. On emerging from hibernation they mate and then disperse and the male takes no part in raising the family. Litters of 2 to 7 young are born from early summer and the young can be seen foraging with the mother after only 3 weeks. More than half of all animals fail to survive their first year, but the remainder live for 2 or 3 years, occasionally as long as 7 years.
The hedgehog’s spiny defence is effective against most predators although badgers
and foxes are both able to open a curled animal. Badgers may be a significant
predator. Many young hedgehogs do not survive their first winter hibernation, having
failed to build up sufficient fat reserves. Probably more significant are the impacts of
road traffic, pollution and habitat change. Fragmentation of pastureland, reduction
of rough grazing areas with their rich invertebrate populations, the impacts of climate change, and the use of slug pellets in gardens all have direct and indirect impacts on hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are found across Cornwall, especially in lowland areas. Many records are from road casualties and urban gardens which may bias the data. Widespread, and locally common in the UK and Ireland.
Hedgehogs also occur across western Europe from southern Spain to Norway.
New methods of hedgehog surveys using tracking tunnels have been developed by the Mammal Society. Road casualty surveys and garden surveys provide useful records. Incidental reports of hedgehogs are often received from gardeners.
Did you know?:
At birth the hedgehog’s spines are white and soft, but they harden after about 4
weeks. Shakespeare refers to hedgepigs
and urchins in both ‘The Tempest’ and
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Hedgehog skins were once used for combing, or
Hedgehogs are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In November
2008 the hedgehog became a UK BAP species. They are also included in the BAP list for Cornwall. Hedgehog populations appear to be in long-term decline.