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Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Perhaps our best loved mammal, the hedgehog population has suffered a worrying decline.

Scientific name: Erinaceus europaeus

Family: Erinaceidae

Appearance

With their spiny back, long snout and waddling gait, there is no mistaking the hedgehog. Adults are around 20-25 cm long and may weigh up to 1.2kg.

Where and how to spot

Hedgehogs are found across the UK and can live in a variety of habitats including woodland, farmland, and parks and gardens. A much less common sight than they once were, hedgehogs are strictly nocturnal and spend the winter months in hibernation. Your best chance of seeing one is to put out some suitable food in your garden, such as wet dog or cat food, and hope you are visited in the night. Hedgehogs are also surprisingly noisy, so listen out for their distinctive huffing and puffing sounds.

Feeding

Invertebrates are a hedgehog’s favoured food, with beetles, slugs, earthworms and caterpillars high on the menu. Occasionally, they may also eat carrion and the eggs of ground-nesting birds.

Behaviour and breeding

Hedgehogs spend much of their life asleep, hibernating through the winter months in a nest made from fallen leaves or other sheltered spot. They emerge in spring, but will spend the day sleeping, becoming active after the sun has gone down. Hedgehogs are naturally solitary and only come together to mate, although multiple hogs may be attracted to a plentiful food source, such as food left out by people. After mating, two to seven young, known as hoglets, will be born. They will spend up to six weeks with their mother, before setting out on their own. Hedgehogs have been known to live for seven years, but a lifespan of two to three is more typical.

Threats

The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 report, from People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, says Britain has lost half its hedgehogs in less than two decades. This worrying trend is likely down to a combination of potential factors. Changing agricultural practices have reduced suitable habitat in the countryside and may have depleted numbers of hedgehog’s invertebrate prey. The fall in hedgehog numbers has also coincided with an increase in badgers - the species’ only significant predator – although this is unlikely to have driven the decline alone.

In urban areas, there are concerns that gardens are becoming less suitable for hedgehogs. A growing preference for low-maintenance gardens with little plant cover deprives hedgehogs of both food and shelter. Meanwhile, fences and walls can make it difficult for hedgehogs to move between gardens and may force them to cross roads more often – thousands of hogs are killed by cars each year.

Find out how you can make you garden hedgehog-friendly. You could even build, or buy, a hedgehog home.

Did you know?

  • Hedgehogs can travel surprisingly far, especially in search of a mate. Males can cover more than 3km per night when looking for a female!
  • A hedgehog’s spines are made from keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair. A typical hog has between 5,000 and 7,000 spines.
  • New-born hoglets can weigh as little as 10g, less than a two pound coin!