Since we don’t have hedgehogs in the U.S. you might not realize what a loss this is.
Only half the size of house cats, European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) have soft spines that are prickly but not dangerous. Unlike porcupine quills the spines have no hooks. Here’s a young one held in the hand.
Though they are nearsighted, nocturnal and solitary, hedgehogs are blessed with a keen sense of smell that helps them find beetles, slugs, insects and grubs. In summer they are lightweights (1.8 pounds) but in autumn they double their weight to get ready to hibernate.
Hedgehogs are surprisingly athletic. According to Dr. Krista Keller at Univ of Illinois, “They often run several miles a night and are adept climbers and swimmers.” In this way they roam a home territory of 2 to 50 acres.
In most of Europe the hedgehog population is stable but by 2007 people began to notice they were disappearing from Britain. A 2018 census found that the population had dropped 66% in just over 20 years. The Guardian reported:
There are perhaps just a million left, representing a 97% fall from the 30 million estimated to have roamed in the 1950s.
No one’s sure why hedgehogs have declined so precipitously but theories include a lack of habitat, a lower insect population, pesticides, road kills, and an increase in predators and competition, especially from badgers.
Climate change is also a factor. Warmer autumns allow baby hedgehogs to be born too late to fatten up for hibernation. This fall more than 500 underweight young hedgehogs were rescued and housed at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England. The Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital was so full in October that they ran out of space for new rescues.
Fortunately UK residents are mobilizing to protect and restore hedgehogs to gardens and hedgerows. This video from Amazing Grace: Saving Britain’s Hedgehogs explains how gardeners can help hedgehogs.
With efforts like these, the hedgehog will make a comeback in Britain.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Tero Laakso on Flickr Creative Commons license; click on the captions to see the originals)
p.s. Hedgehogs are much easier to find in Scandinavia. This mother and baby were photographed crossing a rural road in Sweden. I saw my “Life Hedgehog” in a friends’ backyard in Finland. So cute!