Our prickly little friends

By Alex Potter

Every day they're snuffling...well, every night at least. One of the cutest things you'll find in your garden, here are our top five facts about the hedgehog.

Just when you thought the calendar had all the major global events covered, turns out one prickly day of cuteness slipped under the radar – Hedgehog Day was on 2 February! To celebrate all things tiny and spikey, here are our top five favourite facts for the shy hedgehog!

They are great swimmers

Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog may have been led to believe that Sonic (and all other hedgehogs) can’t swim, but it turns out that real life hedgehogs are strong paddlers in natural bodies of water. Nocturnal creatures, hedgehogs can run and swim up to 2km a night in search of food. While they are good swimmers, hedgehogs need an accessible ledge to get in and out of the water, making creeks and rivers great places for a hedgehog pool party, but man-made swimming pools or ponds may have ledges that are too hard for hedgehogs to climb – keep an eye for any hedgehogs in trouble if you have a pool they might venture into.

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Hedgehogs have tails

If you didn’t think hedgehogs could get any cuter, turns out they have little tails that add an extra 3-5cm to their bodies. Despite having a tail, we rarely see it because their tails blend in so well with the quills that cover their bodies.

They are self-anointing

Hedgehogs are immune to certain species of poisonous plants and use this adaption to their advantage! After eating the poisonous plant, the hedgehog makes a frothy saliva in their mouth that contains the partially digested plant. They then lick their spikes, covering their outer body in this poisonous frothy mix. Scientists believe the hedgehogs do this to hide their scent from other predators, or to at least make the predator think twice if they try to take a bite!

Hedgehog have small sharp teeth, mostly for feeding on insects, plants and berries.

They have over 5000 spikes

Hedgehogs have around 5000-7000 spikes covering their back. Each quill is made of a hollow structure, allowing them to be sharp and pointed, but lightweight for the hedgehog to carry. Hedgehogs can raise or lower their spikes in response to what’s happening around them, maximising the scale of the quills when they seek protection, or keeping the quills out of the way when they’re relaxed. Each spike lasts a year before dropping off and regrowing.

hedgehog sticking out tongue
Fun fact: hedgehogs are predominantly nocturnal, often hard to spot during the day.

They weren’t originally called ‘hedgehogs’

The name ‘hedgehog’ came from a combination of the hedges they love to forage under, and the hog-like snuffling sound they make; Before they were called hedgehogs, these tiny creatures where known as "urchins". Many of us may associate the word urchin with the ocean-dwelling sea urchin; however, it was the hedgehog that carried the name urchin first. Sea urchins were given their name after it was noticed that they had lots of spikes that resembled hedgehogs.

Now that we understand them a little better, let’s add Hedgehog Day to our calendars for the years to come so we can all celebrate the unique qualities and hidden talents of one of nature’s shyest creatures!