The European hedgehog if found in a wide range of habitats. However, it is most often seen at the fringes of woodland, on urban wasteland and more familiarly parks, playing fields, sports grounds and the humble garden. Strangely, the hedgehog prefers not to live in thick forest or high altitude.

The hedgehog is a solitary animal, normally active only at night. During the day it sleeps in a temporary nest from which it emerges as darkness falls. The hedgehog feeds as much as possible during the autumn then, around October, the hedgehog builds a thick nest of leaves and grass in which to hibernate for the winter. Favourite places for hibernation are wood stacks, compost heaps, and haystacks.

By remaining inactive during the winter months, the hedgehog can live off its body fat. Whilst asleep, its body temperature drops to 10 degrees Celsius or even lower, and its heartbeat slows to fewer than 20 beats a minute. On warm days, it may wake up to forage, but returns to its nest as soon as it turns cold again.

Food and hunting

The hedgehog hunts after dark, searching through the night for invertebrates such as earthworms, millipedes and earwigs.

Beetles are a favourite food choice along with caterpillars and slugs.

The hedgehog is known as the gardeners friend because it includes so many plant pests in its diet. It often raids mouse nests in order to feed on newborn young, and 'tidies up' any animal carcases left lying around. In the autumn will eat soft fruit straight off the bush and any fallen fruit straight off the tree.

Frequently, hedgehogs are happy to take food put down for domestic cats and dogs outside in both town and city gardens.

The hedgehog also likes to have a go at tackling hens' eggs. However it has to master smashing them first before it can eat them, but the hedgehog is able to swallow small eggs whole!


Loud snuffling noises in the dead of night from April to August may well be the sounds of hedgehogs mating. The male circles the female, sometimes for hours on end, in order to persuade her to mate. Afterwards, the two hedgehogs separate and the male takes no part in rearing the family.

The hedgehog young are born after about 32 days, in a special ‘maternity’ nest. Late litters, born in September, seldom survive their first winter.

Blind until they are two years old, the young hedgehogs are suckled by their mother until they are able to fend for themselves. After about four weeks, the mother will take them out on their first foraging trip out of the nest and a week and a half later the family will separate.

Hedgehog facts

1. European hedgehogs are widespread throughout Europe from southern Scandinavia to the Mediterranean.

2. Hedgehogs were introduced to New Zealand by settlers.

3. The hedgehog is protected under Schedule VI of the wildlife and countryside act of 1961.

4. Hedgehogs can live up to 6 years.

5. When a hedgehog is in danger it will roll itself up into a ball of bristling spikes. It uses a similar technique when hibernating as it helps to preserve it own body heap buy rolling itself up in leaves and twigs.

6. When stimulated by a strong smell or taste, the hedgehog may ‘self-anoint’ or cover its prickles on foamy saliva. As yet, no-one knows why hedgehogs do this.

7. There may be as many as 500 fleas on a single hedgehog, but don’t worry as the specific hedgehog flea rarely bites humans.

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