Cute … kind of ugly … spiny… delightful … adorable – I find it hard not to love hedgehogs! So here’s a bit more about these too oft-ignored little creatures…
The Southern African hedgehog’s most distinguished feature is the sharp-tipped spines that cover its body like armor. An adult has about 5,000 of these prickly needles, which are actually modified hairs – especially designed to protect the little creature from the attacks of larger predators.
Each spine has a flexible base which acts as shock absorber and is attached to a tiny muscle, which allows it to erect as a reflex to danger. The only body part not covered in sharp needles is the hedgehog’s soft and furry under parts, so that they don’t hurt themselves when curling into a ball.
Hedgehogs lick themselves to keep clean. Yet grooming between those spiny needles is no easy task for these little creatures! This makes them vulnerable to parasites – one hedgehog may carry as many as 1000 fleas.
What’s on the menu?
Southern African hedgehogs have a varied diet of mostly small vertebrates – beetles, earthworms, termites, grasshoppers, frogs, lizards and even fallen fruit. Their powerful front claws help to dig these out of the ground and bush.
New Born Hoglets!
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Hedgehogs have 4 or 5 babies born at one time. At birth they are about 7cm long and weigh 10-25 grams.
To protect the mum’s birth canal during the birthing process, a hoglet’s spines lie just under their skin. These prickly needles start emerging just a few hours later. The piglets are born deaf and blind but mature quickly and are weaned at six weeks old.
When the sun goes down…
Southern African hedgehogs are nocturnal. At night they leave their leafy daytime hide-outs, and venture into the open, relying on their good sense of smell and hearing.
Although safe from most predators, large owls like the Verraux eagle owl are specialized hedgehog-eaters, able to scrape the animal right out of its shell.
” A great deal of money and attention has gone towards the conservation of larger animals such as the rhino, elephant and cheetah, worldwide. Yet how much money is raised for the lesser species, many of whom are rare, threatened and just as important. Little is known about the breeding and lifecycles of these smaller animals. What is the future of these animals if we do not start learning about their survival now?
Very little is known about Southern African Hedgehogs in the wild and this is why the Tikki Hywood Trust has chosen this species to focus on. For the last three years they have successfully bred and released hedgehogs in the south of Zimbabwe to boost the wild populations that are dwindling.‘
More information on The Tikki Hywood Trust