The Desert hedgehog lives in arid desert regions, as it name implies, and is the smallest member in the hedgehog family. It is widespread and is found throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa. The most distinctive feature is its contrasting dark muzzle and wide, white, spineless band across its face, which extends to its sides. It is a highly adaptable little animal and so has thrived and maintained a stable population in spite of the encroaching human habitation. Typically, hedgehogs in the wild live for 3-4 years and in captivity have been known to survive as long as 10. However, the lifespan of this species of hedgehog has not been documented.
Desert hedgehogs are widely distributed throughout northern Africa: in the west in Morocco and Mauritania, and in the east in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. They are also found in the Middle East throughout most parts of the Arabian Peninsula, occurring also in the Canary Islands on Gran Canaria, where it was probably introduced. As per its common name, the Desert hedgehog lives in arid terrain like deserts and dry steppes. It may also favor areas like oases and vegetated wadis that have more food available, and it is also sometimes found in open woodland, gardens, and cultivated areas.
Habits and lifestyle
Desert hedgehogs are solitary animals that are active during the night. They rest during the day close to rocks and cliffs, which affords protection while they are asleep, hiding them away from birds of prey. Desert hedgehogs enter hibernation when temperatures are cooler, between January and February, and they may become less active also when food is scarce and in the hottest months. Although all hedgehog species commonly roll up into a tight ball, exposing only their spikes pointing outwards, desert hedgehogs will often first try to run from predators, with the spiky ball behavior being a second option.
Diet and nutrition
The Desert hedgehog is primarily insectivorous, but may be carnivores depending on food that is available. Their diet includes insects, small invertebrates, frogs, eggs of ground-nesting birds, snakes and scorpions.
Little is known about the mating system of the Desert hedgehog. Breeding starts in March, after hibernation. Up to six young are born in a burrow or hidden nest after gestation lasting 30 to 40 days. It is thought that a single litter is produced each year. Young are born blind and deaf, with their spines located just under their skin, to prevent damaging the mothers during birth. Their spines emerge within the first few hours, and their eyes open after about 21 days. The young are weaned from about 40 days old.
The Desert hedgehog is not considered to be globally threatened, with no major threats reported, although it is noted that increasing desertification (continued decline in biological productivity of semiarid and arid land; the end-result being desert, or irrecoverable skeletal soil) within its range is possibly leading to fragmentation of this species’ populations. In some areas it also may suffer deaths on roads due to traffic.
According to IUCN, Desert hedgehog is widely distributed in the Sahara and the Middle East but no overall population estimate is available. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers today remain stable.
Fun facts for kids
- Desert hedgehogs sleep lying on their sides, their spines giving little protection while they are at rest.
- When it finds an interesting scent, a hedgehog licks and bites the object, which forms scented saliva inside its mouth. It then smears the spittle along its spines. Known as "self-anointing." Scientists cannot explain why hedgehogs do this.
- Young of Desert hedgehogs are called 'hoglets'. The females are known as 'sow' and males as 'boar'. A group of them is called an 'array'.
- When a Desert hedgehog eats a scorpion, first it must bite the stinger off its tail. Some species of hedgehog can even consume venomous snakes.
- Desert hedgehogs favor temperatures between 104 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit (40 and 42 degrees Celsius).
- Hedgehogs will sleep all day, as long as 18 hours.