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Hedgehog: Basics, Habits and Habitat, Distinct Species And Its Fascinating Features and Special Adaptations.

Kingdom     Animalia

Phylum       Chordata

Class          Mammalia

Order         Erinaceomorpha

Family        Erinaceidae

Genus        5 different genera

Species      17 different species

Hedgehog Basics

The hedgehog is a tiny animal with spines that is said to have developed 15 million years ago! It’s an insectivorous creature that may be found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. In addition to the United States, the hedgehog has been introduced to New Zealand, where it is considered a nuisance.

Hedgehogs are spiky, tiny creatures with spines covering their backs. The colours are brown, black, and white. Hedgehogs may defend themselves by curling into a ball and exposing just their porcupine-like quills. The spines of the hedgehog are comprised of keratin, and unlike the porcupine, they are not readily removable from the body. This nocturnal animal, which feeds on bugs and insects, is often seen in gardens.

Hedgehogs eat insects, worms, centipedes, snails, mice, frogs, and snakes, among other tiny creatures. They get their name from the foraging method they use to get food. Hedgehogs are little creatures that burrow through hedges and undergrowth in quest of food, emitting short grunts like pigs, thus the name. Hedgehogs can consume poisonous snakes, scorpions, and frogs because they are resistant to the poisons generated by other species.

Hedgehogs are solitary creatures that only get together to procreate during the breeding season. Hedgehogs only reproduce once a year and generate litters of one to eleven pups. To attract the female, the male engages in a game known as the hedgehog carousel, in which he sprints in circles around her. If the female isn’t satisfied that the male is suitable for her, she starts running in circles, raising her spines and hissing at him. This procedure might take many hours.

Hedgehog hoglets, or piglets, are young hedgehogs. They have a white hue to them. Hoglets are born with quills, but unlike adults, their quills are soft and flexible. The hoglets’ quills are covered by skin packed with fluid before birth to keep them from injuring the mother. The skin begins to shrink, and the white quills develop after approximately a day.

The newborns only stay with their moms for four to seven weeks before venturing out into the world on their own. During this period, female hedgehogs shield their young from predators such as other male hedgehogs, who are known to feed on their own species’ young. Hedgehogs reach full maturity between the ages of nine and eleven months.

Hedgehog Species

Hedgehogs are classified into five genera and have 17 distinct species. Hedgehogs are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, with the exception of New Zealand, where they have been imported. Hedgehogs are not found in the Americas. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the many species. 

  • African pygmy hedgehog: The four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) is the smallest of the hedgehog species and is often produced and marketed as a pet. 
  • Southern African hedgehog: The southern African hedgehog (Atelerix frontalis) may be found in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, among other places. 
  • West European hedgehog: The West European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), often known as the European or common hedgehog, is a widespread and widely dispersed species that ranges from Italy and Iberia to Scandinavia.
  • Long-eared hedgehog Large-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus): This hedgehog is known for its long ears and is endemic to the Middle East and Central Asia. It lives in burrows that it either digs or discovers, and in the summer it goes into torpor to escape the heat.
  • Desert hedgehog: The dusky muzzle of the desert hedgehog (Paraechinus aethiopicus) makes it easy to identify. They also have longer spines than other species, making them difficult to trap for predators. It may be found in portions of the Middle East and Africa.

Fun Facts about the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog is wonderful, but real hedgehogs are much better! Hedgehogs are thorny small creatures that prey mostly on insects, making them popular among gardeners. They have a number of biological adaptations that allow them to survive in a variety of settings and temperatures. Let’s have a look at it more closely!

Self-Anointing

Hedgehogs are fascinating little creatures with a few tricks up their sleeve to help them evade predators. Certain toxic plants do not affect hedgehogs. They generate frothy saliva in their mouths when they ingest these plants, which they subsequently lick all over their spines. This completely engulfs them in the plant’s venom! This strategy, according to scientists, might help them mask their smell from predators or deliver predators a severe shock if they attack!

While this may seem unusual, it is really a highly typical defence mechanism used by many organisms. Toxins in the ants that poison-dart frogs consume protect them against predators. The stinging cells of the coral that nudibranchs consume are transferred to the surface of their skin, where the stinging cells give protection. Because of the poisons they take up from the plants they feed on as caterpillars, even Monarch butterflies are toxic to birds!

Prickly Pincushion

Hedgehogs use their prickly outer layer as defensive armour against predators, earning the nickname “pincushion on legs.” Hedgehogs have 3,000 to 5,000 quills on their backs, which they use to keep predators from devouring them for supper. When a hedgehog is threatened, it lifts its quills to form a crisscross pattern on its body, making it spiky and undesirable to predators. Hedgehogs have thick skin and powerful stomach and back muscles, which they use to curl into a ball, tucking their heads, legs, and tails within. This spiked ball protects its sensitive tummy and is difficult to open for predators. These spines are unique in that they are entirely hollow and may be lifted independently!

Porcupines have keratin spines that they employ to defend themselves against predators. Hedgehogs and porcupines are not related, despite their resemblance. Hedgehogs are more closely related to shrews than porcupines, which are rodents and closely related to rats.

This is an example of convergent evolution, which occurs when two unrelated species acquire identical features as a result of comparable selection forces. Wings in bats and birds, fins in fish and whales, and sophisticated eyes in mammals and octopuses are all convergent features!

Hibernation and Estivation

During the winter, when food is limited, hedgehogs slip into a condition of persistent torpor, or immobility. Hedgehogs go into hibernation, which is a condition of inactivity. The animals adopt a condition of limited activity and metabolic depression during hibernation. Hedgehogs’ body temperatures are lowered to save energy, since the majority of the calories they spend are used to sustain their basal metabolic rate.

When food gets limited, animals go into hibernation to save energy. This is most often linked with cold regions, although it may also occur in places with very hot temperatures, in which case it is known as estivation.

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