European hedgehog

Latin name
Erinaceus europaeus

When people think of British wildlife, hedgehogs are usually pretty high on their list of favourite animals. Indeed, when St. Tiggywinkles (a wildlife hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire) opened its doors for the first time in August 1985, their visitor survey found that ‘prickles’ was people’s favourite form of wildlife. In 2005, a survey by the Royal Horticultural Society and the Wildlife Trusts (called Wild About Gardens) found the hedgehog to be Britain’s favourite wild animal – the survey’s 2,000 plus respondents helped Britain’s prickliest mammal knock the robin (Erithacus rubecula) into third place, kicking the fox (Vulpes vulpes) to number 12 and the badger (Meles meles) to number 15. A decade later and not much has changed. A survey of 5,000 participants in 2016 ranked the hedgehog as Britain’s favourite mammal with a clear majority; taking two-thirds of the votes. The fox was, however, promoted to second and the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) to third.

That which follows is a brief diagnosis of the European hedgehog; the only hedgehog species found wild throughout the UK.

A European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). - Credit: Marc Baldwin

The European hedgehog at a glance

Size: Range from 24 to 35cm (9.5 - 14 in.) long; 2 to 5 cm (1 - 2 in.) is tail. Weigh between 500g (1 lb) and nearly 2 kg (4.5 lb); weight varies according to sex and season.

Colour: Spines (up to 7,000 on adult) on back, hair on underside. Generally brown in colour; spines have white/cream band. Leucistic individuals (white or pale yellow spines) known; partially leucistic and albino animals rare. No melanistic animals reported.

Distribution: Widespread (although perhaps declining) throughout lowlands of Britain (every county and most offshore islands), across much of western Europe north to southern Scandinavia and Finland, south to Mediterranean—found along treelines up to 2,000 m.

Habitat: Urban and rural species, although survey data suggest hedgehogs may be becoming increasingly synurbic, with large areas of rural land (esp. arable agriculture) apparently unsuitable. Animals in urban areas move shorter distances and can reach higher densities than rural populations. Woodland can be suitable habitat, depending on age and structure.

Longevity: Age determination difficult. Oldest captive specimen 15 yrs. Average age in wild widely cited as 5 or 6 yrs, although reality probably closer to 3 or 4 yrs, with maximum of about 8 yrs. New (unpublished) data from Denmark, however, suggest wild individuals can reach 16 yrs old.

Sexing: Impossible at distance; requires uncurling to assess distance between genitals and anus. Penis situated approx. medially (where one might expect to see a belly button.

Activity: Largely nocturnal and widely cited that hedgehog out in daylight is sick, although daytime and particularly crepuscular activity has been documented in otherwise healthy animals (e.g., nursing females and newly-independent hoglets). Range up to 2km (1.2 miles) per night, with males moving further than females. Hibernate during winter if climate requires.

Dens: Build summer and winter (hibernacula) nests. Summer nests flimsy cf. hibernacula. May lie up in long grass during daytime in summer; typically exhibit low nest fidelity.

Territory: Solitary, with no evidence of territoriality. May range over relatively constant area (of up to 32 ha/79 ac. in males and 10 ha/25 ac. in females). Some fights have been observed at feeding stations, but may be “unnatural” situation, and also when males congregate around female(s); otherwise, confrontation possibly avoided through scent-mediated mutual avoidance.

Diet: Adult beetles, earwigs and earthworms comprise bulk (~85%) of diet. Also take caterpillars, slugs, snails, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, centipedes, millipedes, flies and larvae. Plant material rarely consumed. Will take vertebrates (e.g., frogs, smaller birds and small rodents) and ground-nesting bird eggs, with some reports of attacks on larger vertebrates, such as pigeons. Readily takes carrion.

Reproduction: In UK breeding season (“rut”) runs from mid-May to late September. Peak births probably June/July, although some studies show peak courtship during August, leading to peak pregnancy during September. Mating usually preceded by semi-aggressive courtship, involving the boar circling, head-butting and grunting/huffing at the sow. Females polyoestrus and in favourable conditions can produce 2 litters. Ave. litter 4 or 5 (range = 2 to 11) after ~35 day gestation. Leave nest to forage with mother at 4 or 5 wks old (late-July); weaned by 6 to 8 wks and independent by 4 months. Late litters (“autumn ophans”) may have insufficient time to fatten up prior to hibernation.

Behaviour and Sociality: Generally solitary; often intolerant of conspecifics, although may tolerate company at feeding stations. Intriguing behaviour reported includes self-anointing (covering spines in frothy saliva-stimulant mix), running in circles, attacks on snakes, “suckling from cows” and carrying off fruit on spines—the latter two are widely considered unlikely.

Threats: Seemingly in decline throughout much of UK, although data are lacking. Many killed on roads. Strimmers, tidy gardens, bonfires, intensive agricultural practices and insecticides/molluscicides widely considered detrimental to population. High level of predation by badgers in some areas may make certain habitats unsuitable for hedgehogs, and some suggestion foxes may also take a toll locally, although evidence for the latter is lacking. Persecuted locally where implicated in bird declines. Protected by law in much of Europe.

European hedgehog in detail


A Prickly Affair: My life with hedgehogs - by Hugh Warwick
Penguin Books -- 2008 -- ISBN: 978-1846140655

Atlas of the Mammals of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - by Multiple Contributors
Pelagic Publishing -- 2020 -- ISBN: 978-1784272043

Britain’s Mammals 2018: The Mammal Society’s Guide to their Population & Conservation Status - by Multiple Contributors
The Mammal Society -- 2020 -- ISBN: 978-0993567339

Collins Field Guide: Mammals of Britain and Europe - by David MacDonald and Priscilla Barrett
HarperCollins Publishers -- 1993 -- ISBN: 978-0002197793

Dearest Prickles - by Walter & Christl Podushka
Neville Spearman -- 1972 -- ISBN: 978-0854352111

Fauna Britannica - by Stefan Buczacki
Hamlyn Publishing -- 2002 -- ISBN: 978-0600598671

Hedgehogs - by Nigel Reeve
T&AD Poyser Ltd. -- 1996 -- ISBN: 978-0856610813

Hedgehogs - by Pat Morris
Whittet Books -- 2014 -- ISBN: 978-1873580905

Hedgehogs: A comprehensive study - by Konrad Herter
Phoenix House Publications -- 1996 -- ISBN: N/A

Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th Edition - by Stephen Harris and Derek Yalden (eds)
The Mammal Society -- 2008 -- ISBN: 978-0906282656
The natural history "bible" covering all British mammals with detailed coverage of their biology, behaviour, ecology and taxonomy written by experts in the field and referenced to the primary literature.

Mind the Gap: Postglacial colonization of Ireland - by John L. Davenport, David P. Sleeman & Peter C. Woodman (eds)
Irish Naturalists' Journal -- 2008

Nick Baker’s British Wildlife: A month by month guide - by Nick Baker
New Holland Publishers -- 2003 -- ISBN: 978-1845171131

Rescuing the Disappearing Hedgehog - by Toni Bunnell
Toni Bunnell -- 2016 -- ISBN: 978-1782808909

Silent Fields: The long decline of a nation’s wildlife - by Roger Lovegrove
Oxford Univesrity Press -- 2007 -- ISBN: 978-0199548156

Simon King’s Wildguide - by Simon King
BBC Books -- 1994 -- ISBN: 978-0563364962

St. Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital: Jaws the Hedgehog and Other Stories - by Les Stocker
Collins -- 1995 -- ISBN: 978-0006751816

The British Mammal Guide - by Steve Evans & Paul Wetton
Isabelline Films -- 2015 -- ISBN: N/A

The Complete Hedgehog - by Les Stocker
Chatto & Windus -- 1987 -- ISBN: 978-0701132729

The Darkness is Light Enough: The field journal of a night naturalist - by Chris Ferris
Sphere Books Ltd. -- 1986 -- ISBN: 978-0718126902

The Day of the Hedgehog - by Hedgehog Street
BHPS / PTES -- 2015

The Disappearing Hedgehog - by Toni Bunnell
Toni Bunnell -- 2014 -- ISBN: 978-1782802365

The Encyclopaedia of Mammals - by David MacDonald (ed.)
Brown Reference Group -- 2006 -- ISBN: 978-0199206087

The Hedgehog - by Pat Morris
The Mammal Society -- 2011 -- ISBN: 978-0906282717

The Hedgehog - by Maurice Burton
Corgi Publishing -- 1969 -- ISBN: 978-0552092104

The Natural Hedgehog - by Lenni Sykes & Jane Durrant
Gaia Books -- 1995 -- ISBN: 978-1856750738

The New Amateur Naturalist - by Nick Baker
HarperCollins Publishers -- 2004 -- ISBN: 978-0007157310

The New Hedgehog Book - by Pat Morris
Whittet Books -- 2006 -- ISBN: 1-873580-71-1

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-winkle - by Beatrix Potter
Collins/Frederick Warne & Co. -- 1905 -- ISBN: 978-0723247753

The Wildlife Trust’s Handbook of Garden Wildlife - by Nicholas Hammond
Bloombury -- 2014 -- ISBN: 978-1472915863

UK Mammals: Species Status & Population Trends - by The Tracking Mammals Partnership
JNCC/TMP -- 2005 -- ISBN: 978-1861075680

Urban Mammals: A Concise Guide - by David Wembridge
Whittet Books -- 2012 -- ISBN: 978-1873580851

Urban Wildlife - by Peter Shirley
Whittet Books -- 1996 -- ISBN: 978-1873580233

Wild Animals of Britain & Europe - by Helga Hofmann
HarperCollins Publishers -- 1995 -- ISBN: 978-0007627271

Wild Britain: Hedgehog - by Louise Spilsbury & Richard Spilsbury
Heinemann Library -- 2004 -- ISBN: 978-0431039381