Wildwood Group
Wildwood Group
Wildwood Group

European Hedgehog

Erinaceus europaeus

 

Description

Small, brown, round mammal with an unmistakable coat of speckled brown and cream spines. Brown pointy face with small eyes, nose and small round ears. Can weigh (at their heaviest) up to 2kg.

Distribution

Found throughout Europe (including Russia). Found in a variety of habitats and climates, from the UK in the West, to Northwest Russia in the east and in the north from Scandinavia down to the Mediterranean. It is an introduced invasive species in New Zealand.

Habitat

Has a range of occupied habitat types; urban gardens, heathland, mixed woodland, grassland and arable farmland. Gardens and parks are becoming increasingly important for this species in urban areas.

Diet

Mainly insectivorous, but has a varied diet. Important food sources are beetles, earthworms, slugs, caterpillars, eggs, and small chicks (ground nesting).

Behaviour

Nocturnal, solitary and non-territorial (although males can be aggressive towards each other). Characteristic feature of rolling into a tight ball for defence. Have home ranges and can travel considerable distances (1-2km) in one evening. Hedgehogs hibernate over the winter period; this normally begins in November and ends around Easter time. During the winter, hedgehogs can wake up for short periods such as building a new nest. However if the weather suddenly becomes too warm too early, this can have a negative affect by awakening hibernating hedgehogs too early without sufficient food available. Nests usually consist of a pile of leaves, under a bush, log pile, garden shed, and bonfire heaps.

UK Status

Historically were widespread across the UK, in the last 30 years their population has declined dramatically. Partially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act making it illegal to trap without a license. Listed as a Biodiversity Action Plan species (BAP); a status that offers protection and conservation plans in order to halt or reverse their decline.

Threats

Habitat loss and fragmentation is a major cause for concern for this species, in particular the widespread removal of hedgerows, intensification of farming practices (as well as the switch from pastoral to arable farming), pesticide use both in farms and gardens, and road traffic collisions. Badgers are also a threat to hedgehogs as not only do badgers compete with hedgehogs for food and resources but they are also their only main predator; being strong enough to uncurl them from their protective spiny ball. Future concerns on the impact climate change may be having on hedgehogs is also earmarked for further research.

Did you know?
  • An average hedgehog coat contains around 6,000 individual spines.
  • Excellent swimmers; can quite often get stuck in garden ponds if there is no easy way out.