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.
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.
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 New (unpublished) data from Denmark, however, suggest wild individuals can reach 16 yrs old.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 (esp. nursing) animals. Range up to 2km per night, with males moving further than females. Hibernate during winter if climate requires.
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 (esp. nursing) animals. Range up to 2km 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 scraps have been observed at feeding stations, but may be ‘unnatural’ situation; 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 rare. Some evidence to suggest attacks on vertebrates (e.g. frogs, birds and small rodents) and raiding of bird nests for eggs. 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 aggressive courtship, involving circling, butting and grunting. Females polyoestrus; 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 and insecticides/molluscicides widely considered detrimental to population. High level of predation by badgers in some areas 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.
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
Hedgehogs - by Pat Morris
Whittet Books -- 2014 -- ISBN: 978-1873580905
Hedgehogs - by Nigel Reeve
T&AD Poyser Ltd. -- 1996 -- ISBN: 978-0856610813
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 Maurice Burton
Corgi Publishing -- 1969 -- ISBN: 978-0552092104
The Hedgehog - by Pat Morris
The Mammal Society -- 2011 -- ISBN: 978-0906282717
The Natural Hedgehog - by Lenni Sykes & Jane Durrant
Gaia Books -- 1995 -- ISBN: 978-1856750738
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