European Hedgehog Sexing

Discerning between sexes often requires a degree of skill and experience, not because visual discrimination is particularly difficult, but because getting a hedgehog to uncurl can be something of an art! Intriguingly, I'm increasingly of the opinion that each sex has its own characteristic odour that other hogs are highly attuned to this. In our garden, we have seen many examples of male hedgehogs suddenly stopping what they're doing and running several metres in the dark to either attack another male or court a female. This indicates to me that not only is smell probably a more important sense than we currently realise, but also that hedgehogs are able to ascertain each other's gender based on smell. I'm very interested to hear from anyone with similar observations or experience.

An uncurled male hedgehog, showing the penis as a protrusion in the middle of the stomach where one might expect a belly button. - Credit: Happy Hedgehog Rescue

Early authors suggested that adult females are lighter in colour and have longer and more pointed snouts than males, but none of these apparent differences bear up to scrutiny. That said, in our garden we have noticed that adult males seem to have “blunter” faces than adult females, although the face also seems longer in juveniles of both sexes. In practical terms, telling male from female at distance is largely impossible. I say “largely”, because there are occasions when the penis is visible. Often the penis will be exposed while the male is attempting to mount a female, and I have seen males “gyrating” on our patio with penis extended and no obvious female in the vicinity. Male hedgehogs are ascrotal, literally “without a scrotum”, which means their testes remain inside the body rather than descending into the scrotum, making them much less obvious than in most other mammals. In principle, this means it's often not possible to use testicles to help ascribe gender, although during the height of the breeding season (e.g. June/July) mature males may exhibit a significant swelling attributable to the testicles.

If the animal can be restrained, or a clear view of the underside can be made, sexing is relatively simple based on the distance between the anus and genitals. The anus of both sexes is near the base of the tail, but males have a penis situated approximately medially on their belly, roughly where one might expect a belly button, about 5-6 cm (2.5 in.) away. As Lenni Sykes and Jane Durrant put it in Natural Hedgehog, if you feel the middle of a hog's belly and there's nothing but fur, it's a female. In her 1997 book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Hedgehogs, Dilys Breese explained:

In adult males the penis shows as a large projection approximately where you would expect the navel to be, about 5 cm [2 inches] in front of the base of the tail. In females there are two openings close together, near the base of the tail.”

Close views of a hedgehog are often enough to ascribe the sex, particularly during the height of the breeding season. The prepuce of mature males (boars) can sometimes be seen as a small projection from the underside (right). Hedgehogs are ascrotal, meaning their testicles do not descend, but it is sometimes possible to identify engorged testicles as a "bulge" (left) - Credit: Marc Baldwin

Indeed, in females the genitals and anus are only around a centimetre apart (0.5 in.). This technique can be a little more difficult in hoglets, because the penis and anus start out closer together and separate (i.e., the penis migrates forward) as the animal grows. Males are sometimes referred to as boars and females as sows.