Erinaceidae – Hedgehogs

The well-known, frequently-seen hedgehogs of Eurasia and Africa and the gymnures or moonrats of SE Asia

Hedgehogs are small mammals known for their distinctive spiny coats and curious nature. These creatures have adapted to a wide range of habitats across Europe, Asia, and Africa, including woodlands, grasslands, deserts, and even urban parks and gardens. Their versatility in habitat preference highlights their ability to thrive in various environments, from humid forests to arid deserts.

One of the most recognizable features of hedgehogs is their spines or quills, which are modified hairs made stiff with keratin. These spines are a defense mechanism; when threatened, a hedgehog will curl into a tight ball, with its spines protruding outward, deterring most predators. This ability to protect themselves allows hedgehogs to forage for food with a bit more security.

Hedgehogs are opportunistic feeders with a diet with a broad spectrum of foods. They primarily eat small invertebrates such as insects, worms, and snails, making them beneficial for natural pest control. Additionally, they can consume various other foods when available, including small reptiles, carrion, fruits, and roots.

These animals are predominantly nocturnal, active at night when they hunt for food. However, the moonrat, a relative of the hedgehog, may also show diurnal (daytime) activity. The nocturnal lifestyle helps hedgehogs avoid predators and the heat of the day, especially in warmer climates.

Hedgehogs prepare for winter by hibernating in colder regions, a process during which their body temperature, heart rate, and metabolism decrease significantly. This state of torpor allows them to conserve energy during winter when food is scarce. Before hibernation, they accumulate fat reserves to sustain them, showcasing their remarkable survival strategy.

Despite their generally solitary nature, hedgehogs come together during the breeding season. Outside of this period, they prefer to live alone, each in its own burrow or nest, which can be found under tree logs, in dense foliage, or even within human-made structures in gardens and parks.