Hedgehogs have prickly spines everywhere except on their face, legs, and bellies. By curling into a tight ball and tucking in their heads, tail, and legs, they protect the parts of their bodies that do not have stiff, sharp spines. Often compared to pincushions, hedgehogs depend on their spines for defense—both while they sleep and when they face enemies.
- Common Name:
- Scientific Name:
- Erinaceus europaeus
- Head and body: 5 to 12 inches; tail: 1 to 2 inches
- 14 to 39 ounces
The head and body of adult hedgehogs range from 5 to 12 inches (13 to 30 centimeters) long and their tail can add 1 to 2 inches (3-5 centimeters).
When hedgehogs are born—up to seven in a litter—their spines are soft and short. Soon after birth, their spines harden, becoming stiffer, sharper, and longer. Babies stay in the nest until they're about three weeks old. By that time, their eyes are open, their spines are effective, and they can safely follow their mother outside the nest as she looks for food.
Top on the hedgehog's menu are insects, followed by small mice, snails, lizards, frogs, eggs, and even snakes.
Hedgehogs sometimes add extra protection to their spines by "self-anointing." Immune to poisons in some plants, hedgehogs sometimes eat those plants and then make a frothy saliva in their mouths. The hedgehogs then lick their spines, spreading the saliva with the plant's poison all over the spikes. Though hedgehogs mainly stay on the ground, they swim quite well and even climb trees.