10 Facts About Hedgehogs & How To Help Them
It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week! High time for a HedgeBlog.
All Hail The Hedgehog: these spiky dollops are one of the most popular garden visitors with our customers and us! There’s something cosily comforting about having them potter about in the garden. Even watching video footage of their dorky snuffling in their nests can take the (h)edge off. But there’s more to them than just being darn cute or the fact that they curl up into a ball to protect themselves with their spikes.
There’s so much to learn about them! Here are some fun facts to spike your interest.
Little Ball Of Spike And Fluff
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Hedgehogs can swim
Besides being fierce diggers and tree climbers, hedgehogs are known to be excellent swimmers. Now don’t just drop them in the water (leave them be), as not all of them may enjoy it, and some simply aren’t used to the water. That’s why it’s still good to put up safety barriers around garden ponds, in case they fall in suddenly - shock can cause them to drown! A bit more on that later. But those that have naturally built up a familiarity with open waters, can swim like Robbie Renwick.
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When hedgehogs hunt, they make grunty sounds, a bit like mini pigs. Have you noticed their piglike snout?
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Hedgehogs can keep a dreadful diet - they’d eat just about anything fatty and high in sugar, which can cause fatty liver disease, as their metabolism is actually adapted to low-fat, protein-rich insects. Besides insects, grassroots and mushrooms, these chubby omnivores just love a good snack, and can be found munching on nice fat snails, frogs, toads, bird eggs, lizards, small mice, snakes, carrion (yuk!), topped with some sweet melon and berries.
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Gardeners and farmers are generally chuffed with their eating habits, as they eat slugs, beetles, caterpillars etc., which makes them very welcome natural pest controllers.
Got Milk? Keep It!
It may be tempting to leave out a bowl of milk for them, but please don’t. Hedgehogs shouldn’t actually drink milk; they are lactose-intolerant, so it would only make them sick. Place a shallow bowl of fresh water instead, they’ll love you for it.
Hoglet It Be
Did you know that baby hedgehogs are called ‘hoglets’? And a group of hedgehogs is called an ‘array’. Ah, we’d welcome an array of hoglets any day.
Giving Birth To A Hoglet - Ouch?
Nope, because nature is wonderful. When hedgie babies are born, their spines are still soft and short. Soon after birth, the spines harden and become longer.
Hedgies’ spiky spines offer protection to their vulnerable parts during sleep and threatening situations, as they can curl themselves up into a tight ball with their special belly and back muscles.
Hedgehogs reproduce between April and September, being busiest in May and June.
Hoglets stay in the nest until they are about 3 weeks old, when their spines are hardened, their eyes are fully open, and they can follow their mum on her daily grocery shop.
A Proper Nap
Waking Up After A Long Sleep
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Good old hibernation, these quirky mammals are doing it right. They usually hit the big snooze from October/November through to March/April. During this period, each hedgehog probably moves nesting site at least once, and when it’s a mild winter they can sometimes stay active well into December, so you can still see them pottering about! It’s good to always leave cat/dog food (dry biscuits in winter so it doesn't freeze) and low bowls of water out for them, whenever they take a break and are desperately looking for food to keep their energy up.
Did you know that they can snore? Unlike humans, their snores are actually pretty sweet, as shown in this video.
Last but not least, here are some quick basic hedgehog facts, should it ever come up in a pub quiz:
- Body length: 14cm - 30cm
- Tail length: can add an extra 1-6 cm
- Top speed: 9.5 km/hr in bursts, or 6 feet (183 cm) a second!
- Habitat: grassland, hedgerows, woodland, gardens and meadows
- Life span: Around 7 years
- Currently 16 known hedgehog species worldwide
- A hedgehog has around 5000 spines, each spine lasts about a year
- Excellent sense of smell and hearing, but poor eyesight
- A hedgie litter can contain up to 7 hoglets
- Hedgehogs are mostly nocturnal creatures, searching for food at night, though it can occur during the day too, especially when it has rained
- They are the only British mammals with spiky spines on their coat
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In Need Of A HedgeHug
Unfortunately, wild hedgehog populations are quickly declining; they may even become extinct within the next 15 years. In the past 60 years, hedgehog numbers in Britain alone have dropped from 36 million to 1 million. The past decade has shown a decline of a whopping 40%. What’s going on with our dear little garden friends?
The main causes of their disappearance:
Humans - Pesticides
The use of pesticides in farming greatly reduces their food source, and also makes hungry, desperate badgers prey on them.
Humans - Loss of habitat
Hedgehog populations in the countryside have fallen dramatically, mainly due to the loss of hedgerows, where they like to live. Urban environments have also gone through a big change with the building of solid, concrete fences everywhere, so they can’t move around freely anymore. On their search for food, hedgehogs can travel up to four kilometres a night, and need to be able to move from garden to garden and also have sheltered wild spaces, with piles of leaves for example, on the town fringes.
Humans - Traffic
Lots of new roads are still being built everywhere. Unfortunately, more and more hedgehogs get overrun by cars and other fast and furious vehicles.
Humans - Garden Shenanigans
Other accidents can happen too, for example from mowing and trimming, without being mindful of the little critters in the grass.
Garden ponds and swimming pools can also be hazardous, as, even though hedgehogs can be great swimmers, they can drown from sheer exhaustion if they can’t find a way out easily.
Firestarters, hold your fire! Any bonfire, or simply burning of a pile of rubbish/leaves, can bring horror to any creatures still scurrying underneath.
Also netting, from pea netting to sports netting, can end up being fatal. It can get tangled around a hedgehog’s spines, especially when they curl up, making it worse.
Humans - Poison
It’s not just pesticides used in farming, people also use chemical wood preservers (hedgies like to lick freshly treated fences for some reason), herbicides, rat poison and nasty slug pellets in their garden, which kills our hedgy friends. While hedgehogs are actually a harmless, natural pest controller!
Humans - Litter
A lot of hedgehogs get injured and infected by getting caught up inside cans, bottles, yoghurt pots, bottles, tin cans, plastic can holders, etc.
Humane Humans: Be A Hedgehog Hero
All this would make us want to curl up into a ball - but hold up, no need to feel prickly and helpless! You can be a hero and help the hedgehogs survive. Unleash your inner David Attenborough, there's lots you can do:
Create Wildlife Corridors
Hedgehogs need to be able to move around from garden to garden, so ensure they have access (and how about the other gardens in the street?). You can create a 13cm x 13cm gap in walls and fences, for example.
You can bring it forward to our future heroes: get your girls and boys excited to help as well.
And get your neighbourhood and schools involved! Encourage others to create your very own local hedgehog highway.
Place a Hedge House
One of the best ways to help our pouty snouters make it through, is offering them a cosy home by placing a hedgehog house in a shaded position (entrance east to south-facing) in your garden. You can fill it with a handful of leaves, grass or hay to initiate a nest. Camouflage the box in sticks and leaves, as they like their comfy hidden shelter space. Hedgehogs usually don’t eat and sleep in the same place, so it's best not to offer food inside the home, rather place it a bit away from it.
See this helpful video for further information.
Leave Food Out
As food sources become more and more scarce, and food and water can get frozen during winter or less available during dry periods, it really helps to leave out shallow bowls of fresh water, and bowls of cat or dog food out at all times. Find more snack ideas in this lovely video.
Another great help would be to place a hedgehog feeding station to provide an extra safe, sheltered hedgie restaurant.
Become An Insect Landlord
Add a little bug hotel to your collection of wildlife dens! The insects will come a-buzzin’, which will grow their numbers ...and create extra dinners for your spiky friends.
Don’t Be Daft, Be Kind And Mindful
Here are some more tips to help our hedgies stay happy and healthy:
- Choose pesticide-free foods
- Don’t drop litter (duh)
- Use wildlife-friendly slug pellets (not the blue ones!) instead ..or none at all! Laying dried seaweed around your plants helps stave them off too, or have a lil’ faith in your hedgehogs helping out with any slug issues naturally
- Use a water-based, environmentally friendly wood treatment
- Make sure any netting is off the ground enough so hedgehogs can pass under safely
- Always check your pile of garden refuse, sticks and leaves for any animals hiding in it, before lighting your fire
- Check your pond or pool daily in case there’s a hedgie stuck in it
- Place an exit ramp in your pond or pool, and let them have at least one side sloping gently, so they can make a quick exit
- Cover drain holes (they tend to fall in and get stuck) with a paving slab or litter tray with a brick on top
- Be mindful on the road ..and get the aul’ runners out more often
- Leave nice, messy piles of leaves and sticks out for them to snuffle and hide in
- Check long grass and piles before you strip, mow, or stick your garden fork in
- Contact your local rescue centre or vet if you find a hedgehog in distress, and check the following, wonderfully detailed advice.
Can’t get enough of these dorky dollops? There’s lots more to learn, and many ways to get involved, by linking in with handy websites such as www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk and https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/.
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