Hedgehogs: much-loved mystery mammals
Hands down, the hedgehog is one of our best-loved mammals. But despite latest scientific studies it remains a creature of considerable mystery.
Hedgehogs have been having a hard time in recent years, and the British population is thought to have fallen from around 35 million 60 years ago to a mere 1.5 million today. This is bad news, as they are the gardener’s friends since they consume many pests including centipedes and slugs. If there are hedgehogs in your area (they tend to be absent where badgers are numerous) they are easily encouraged, coming regularly for food. They will eat anything from peanuts to bread but we especially recommend I Love Hedgehogs™, our hand-mixed blend whose popularity has been confirmed by hedgehogs throughout Britain.
It’s unusual to see hedgehogs about by day since they’re nocturnal; daylight encounters usually indicate a sick animal. It is equally rare to see two adults together except when mating, as they are solitary creatures. The youngsters only remain with their mother for five or six weeks.
Hibernation usually begins in October, but some youngsters will remain active until December if the weather remains mild. A hibernation nest of leaves and grass is usually built under brushwood or similar cover. To provide ideal hibernation sites in your garden we now offer a choice of three hedgehog boxes, all of which may also be used by the female for breeding next season. Incidentally, hedgehogs generally move their hibernation home at least once during the winter so if you have a large garden a choice of boxes makes sense.
Many of us enjoy regular visits from hedgehogs and do our best to encourage them. Some of us even become quite fond of ‘our’ hedgehog, often getting to know them individually. However, latest research suggests that the hedgehog world is really rather complex, and the ’hog we think we’ve got to know may be a complete stranger. Studies using telemetry, with individual hedgehogs carrying radio transmitters on their spines, have shown that males typically travel between one and two miles a night, with a maximum of about two and half miles being the farthest straight-line distance likely to be covered. Females are only slightly less adventurous. To add to the confusion, the prickly pigs do not have home territories they defend but simply have a home range they wander over, which is usually shared with a number of others. In the summer males will use a fresh day-time nest almost every day while females may use the same one for a week or more. We’ve also learnt that some hedgehogs have a stay-at-home nature, seldom wandering far, while others are inveterate wanderers that travel widely and unpredictably. You’ll find out more about travelling ’hogs in the New Hedgehog Book by Pat Morris, published by the Whittet Wildlife Library. Visit the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s website for more information about caring for hedgehogs: www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk.
For voracious readers: learn more about hungry hedgehogs and their diet >