November 2010  - The Hedgehog

I've only seen a hedgehog twice in the garden this year, the last time being a couple of weeks ago when I was putting the dogs in the garden before bed. Luckily hedgehog fleas are host specific and do not survive on dogs as is commonly thought.

Hedgehogs are covered by 5,000 to 7,000 brown white tipped spines (modified hair). They have a short tail and their underside and legs are covered with coarse brown fur. They are solitary and nocturnal animals. They can sprint short distances at up to 6 mph but usually saunter at around 2 mph. Hedgehogs have an excellent sense of smell and hearing for catching prey consisting of beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, slugs, snails and birds eggs of ground nesting birds but they have very poor eyesight. The hedgehog breeding season lasts from about April to September, with most hoglets being born June and July. Ones born late in the season have far less chance of survival. The average family is 4 to 5. The hoglets are born blind with the spines under the skin so they do not hurt mum. After 2 weeks the spines begin to show, and their eyes open. Hedgehogs have baby teeth like humans and these fall out after about 3 weeks. Hoglets leave their nest when they are 4 to 5 weeks old, and then fend for themselves. 1 out of 5 hoglets die before leaving the nest. The age span of a hedgehog is around 3 years and is dependent primarily on the weather and food supplies. With ideal conditions a hedgehog may live to 10 years old but by then its teeth are worn down and the animal would not be able to eat properly. The main cause of death in hedgehogs is during hibernation although a staggering 12,000 to 15,000 hedgehogs have been reported killed on roads every year. Hedgehogs hibernate to survive the dearth of food and the cold winter. The hibernaculum is made of leaves and grass in a pile of logs or similar. They may also use wooden nest boxes manmade for this purpose. Juveniles must have reached a weight of at least 450g (1lb) for any chance of survival  during the winter although 600g (1lb 60z) is more often quoted. We can help hedgehogs reach the correct weight by providing food such as meat based pet food (not in gravy), cooked chicken (no bones), minced beef or lamb, a little bran or unsweetened,  moistened muesli cereal, raisins and bananas. They should never be given cow's milk but should always have access to clean fresh water.

Sick, injured or orphaned hedgehogs are subject to hypothermia and will be seen staggering around during daylight hours. If you see one, handle with gloves and if possible take it to a warm dry area and phone the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890801 for details of the nearest care centre and instructions of what to do.

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