West European hedgehog, Common hedgehog
The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is a hedgehog species native to Europe. It is a generally common and widely distributed species that can survive across a wide range of habitat types. It is a well-known species, and a favorite in European gardens, both for its endearing appearance and its preference for eating a range of garden pests. While populations are currently stable across much of its range, it is declining severely in Great Britain where it is now Red Listed (classified as near to extinction).
Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by being active during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is "nocturnal",...
An omnivore is an animal that has the ability to eat and survive on both plant and animal matter. Obtaining energy and nutrients from plant and ani...
Terrestrial animals are animals that live predominantly or entirely on land (e.g., cats, ants, snails), as compared with aquatic animals, which liv...
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Polygynandry is a mating system in which both males and females have multiple mating partners during a breeding season.
Hibernation is a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression undergone by some animal species. Hibernation is a seasonal heterothermy charac...
The European hedgehog appears brownish with most of its body covered by up to 6000 brown and white spines. It has an extremely short tail as an almost vestigial feature, typically 20 to 30 mm (0.8 to 1.2 in). Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but sex differences in body weight are overshadowed by enormous seasonal variation.
European hedgehogs are commonly found throughout Europe and Central Asia. Native to these areas, it occurs from the Azores Archipelago as far to the east as Kazakhstan and is commonly seen across northern Europe, up to Scandinavia. Though not generally found south of the Mediterranean Sea, it has been seen in Lebanon. It also lives in New Zealand, having been introduced there in the late 1800s. These hedgehogs occupy a variety of habitats that provide sufficient cover to allow nesting. They are commonly found in woodlands, grasslands such as meadows and pasture, arable land, orchards, and vineyards as well as in human settlements. They prefer lowlands and hills but are also locally present in mountains. Outside cultivated land, they prefer marginal zones of forests, particularly ecotonal grass and scrub vegetation.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, non-territorial, and predominantly solitary. They can go as far as one to two kilometers a night when foraging for food. They can run fairly quickly, are good swimmers, and are well-known to roll into a tight ball as a defense. In winter they hibernate in a nest of leaves, usually under log piles or sheds. As with all hedgehogs, the European hedgehog has the interesting habit of 'self-anointing', where it produces foamy saliva in large amounts and licks this over its spines. The reason for this behavior is unknown, but it is triggered by new foods, strong smells, and being in the presence of others of their species. These animals are not particularly noisy, making mostly grunts, snorts, and hoarse squeaks. Adults make these sounds during mating and feeding, and sometimes when captured. The young may whistle and squeak while in the nest.
European hedgehogs are omnivores but feed mostly on insects. They prefer beetles, earwigs, ants, bees, wasps, butterflies, and moths, and will also eat snails, cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, eggs, lizards, frogs, snakes, small rodents, and carrion.
European hedgehogs are polygynandrous, with males and females having multiple mates each season (promiscuous). Mating starts when they emerge in April from hibernation and continues until September. The males emerge first, 3 to 4 weeks prior to the females, and will expand their home range in the mating season to increase their chances of finding a female to mate with. Gestation is for about 35 days and four to six young per litter are born, often two litters per year being produced. 24 hours after birth the spines of the young are revealed, and within 2 to 3 days their muscles are strong enough for them to hold their spines erect. These white spines are replaced with darker ones after about 1.5 days. After 2 to 3 weeks, pigmented adult spines replace this second coat of spines, and around this time the young start to open their eyes and can learn how to roll up into a ball. The young are weaned by the age of 4 to 6 weeks, and then become independent of their parents, being able to mate around the age of 1 year.
Threats to European hedgehogs today include agricultural change such as the loss of hedgerows and grasslands, pesticide use, falling into cattle grids, drowning in garden ponds, road deaths, poisoning with garden chemicals, and being killed by mowing machines.
European hedgehog is common and abundant throughout its wide range, but no overall population estimate is available. According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species resource, the best estimate is under a million hedgehogs in the UK. Currently, European hedgehogs are classified as Least Concern (LC) and their numbers today remain stable.
Being omnivorous, eating a wide range of animals (especially insects), European hedgehogs may contribute to controlling insect pest populations in certain areas.