Hedgehog | Exploring the World of Wildlife: facts about the Hedgehog

The hedgehog is a prickly nocturnal gatherer that lives all over the world. There are 17 species of hedgehogs, and these solitary ones can make a home just about anywhere—in deserts, parks, or native gardens. When looking for food, they rely heavily on their sharp needles and their ability to stop, drop, and curl up into a ball for protection from predators.

Fact number one.

Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs are not rodents. Hedgehogs are often mistaken for porcupines, which are rodents, and that is probably where this story began. However, since they belong to the mammal group Eulipotyphla, they are not even remotely related to porcupines. As a result, hedgehogs look more like moles or shrews.

Fact number two.

In some cultures, especially in the Middle East, it is believed that hedgehog meat has medicinal properties. It is believed that eating hedgehogs can cure everything from tuberculosis to impotence, and in Morocco some people think that inhaling smoke from burnt hedgehog skin can lower fever and cure urinary tract infections.

Fact number three.

Most hedgehogs have special proteins in their blood that can neutralize snake venom. This often makes them largely immune to snake bites. This allows them to hunt snakes rather than the other way around. However, they are not completely immune to it, and if the venom is strong enough or directed at the right part of their body (such as their face), they can still be wounded or killed.

Fact number four.

Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that hibernate. Not all hedgehogs do, but the ones that do hibernate sleep from October through April. Hedgehogs do not completely hibernate; most hibernating hedgehogs carry their nests at least once during the hibernation period.

Fact number five.

Hedgehogs can bloat. Animals are prone to what’s called «balloon syndrome,» in which gas builds up under their skin, causing them to inflate (sometimes reaching the size of an inflatable ball). No one knows exactly why this happens, although it is suspected that it occurs when certain injuries are sustained. The only treatment is an incision in the skin to release the trapped gas.

Fact number six.

Hedgehogs only have one set of teeth during their lifetime. Hedgehogs have a total of 44 teeth, and they will be fully grown by the time they are 3 weeks old. As a result, it is extremely important to take good care of your hedgehog’s teeth if you keep it as a pet.

Fact number seven.

Hedgehogs can swim. Real hedgehogs are actually quite skilled swimmers. In the wild, they regularly swim up to 2 kilometers in search of food, though they’re usually more inclined to just loiter in the water.

Fact number eight.

Hedgehogs are prone to parasites. Both inside and outside, hedgehogs can have parasites. Hedgehogs can get worms, fleas, ticks and many other parasites, so check your pet regularly for unwanted guests. Interestingly, long-eared species are more likely to suffer from parasites, especially ear mites.

Fact number nine.

Hedgehogs are prone to cancer. When hedgehogs reach about 3 years of age, cancer becomes extremely common in hedgehogs, usually affecting the stomach, mouth or intestinal tract. The disease usually shows distinctive signs, such as weight loss, lethargy and loss of spines. They are also susceptible to various respiratory diseases. This includes pneumonia. If your hedgehog sneezes or has trouble breathing, take him to the vet.

Fact number ten.

Hedgehogs’ needles are their main defense against predators. When excited, hedgehogs curl up into a ball and pull out the needles that line their skin with two muscles in their hindquarters. Their spines are quite different from those of the porcupine.

The sharp removable needles of porcupines are much more painful than those of hedgehogs. Instead of biting and attacking, hedgehogs are much more likely to defend themselves and try to run away from a fight.

February 2 is Hedgehog Day, also known as Groundhog Day in the United States, because of the large numbers of these animals. This holiday originated in ancient Rome more than 2,000 years ago. The Romans used to wake up hedgehogs and use their behavior to try to predict what spring would be like and to make weather predictions based on this behavior.

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