Hedgehogs are one of Britain’s most loved animals and yet in recent years there has been a sharp decline in numbers. They are now listed as a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which offers them some protection. However, it is the loss of their habitat that is putting them at risk. Fortunately it is fairly easy to create suitable habitat in your garden and with nature awareness on the increase it shouldn’t be too hard to turn them into a conservation success story.
Hedgehogs are the only British mammal with spines, the young hedgehogs; called hoglets; are born with soft spines under the skin in order to protect their mother. A second set of spines then emerges within days. Litters range from just one to eleven hoglets. They have the ability to cover their spines with foamy saliva however, the reason for doing so remains a mystery. They have 5000 spines with each one lasting about a year before dropping out and a replacement growing in its place. The spines are hollow and springy with a flexible neck, erected by muscles.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and eat a range of food including worms, slugs, frogs, bird eggs and even adders as they are resistant to adder venom. Each night they will travel 2km in their search for food. While hunting they rely primarily on their sense of smell and hearing, due to their weak eyesight although their eyesight is adapted for night vision.
A group of hedgehogs is known as an array, though they are primarily solitary animals, with the females raising the young.
It is very common for people to recommend putting a saucer of milk out to attract hedgehogs into the garden. Hedgehogs are however lactose intolerant so it is much better to put out some meaty (not fishy!) cat food.
As a child I was warned not to touch hedgehogs as they are covered in fleas, while it is true that there may be up to 500 fleas on one hedgehog the specific hedgehog flea Archaepsylla erinaqcei rarely bites humans. However it is still recommended you do not touch hedgehogs as you may cause the animal unintended stress.
They are often portrayed as slow moving, bumbling animals but anyone who has tried to photograph one will know that they can move pretty fast when they want to. They can run at speeds of up to 6 feet per second.
It is always good to know that the large corporations get behind the conservation of native animals. In 2006 McDonalds in the UK changed their Mc Flurry carton design due to reports that hedgehogs were getting their heads trapped in the hole.
It is easy to do your bit to save this vulnerable animal, it is all about providing a warm place to hibernate and some food and water. A pet bowl topped up with fresh water and some dog food or meal worms will tide them over until the spring and a pile of logs, twigs and leaves provides the perfect hibernacula. Hedgehog heaven! For more information on hedgehogs click here, or read about our exciting hedgehog rescue in Northumberland!
Alternatively, read our article about encouraging wildlife into your garden.
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