Western European hedgehog

Erinaceus europaeus

SUBFAMILY

Erinaceinae

TAXONOMY

Erinaceus europaeus Linnaeus, 1758, Sweden. Formerly included E. concolor and E. amurensis.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Hérisson de l'ouest; German: Westeuropäisch Igel; Spanish: Erizo europeo.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length: 9-11 in (23-28 cm); tail: 0.5-1.2 in (1.5-3 cm); weight: 14-42 oz (400-1,200 g). Large brown hedgehog with short tail. Spines are banded yellow and brown, with pale tips.

DISTRIBUTION

Widespread throughout Western and Central Europe including Great Britain, Ireland, southern Scandinavia and northwestern Russia.

HABITAT

Deciduous woodland and scrub, grassland and pasture, suburban parks and gardens. Alpine regions below the treeline.

BEHAVIOR

Nocturnal and solitary outside breeding season, non-territorial but intolerant of conspecifics; where winters are cold, enters deep hibernation from October-December to March-April; rolls up into spiny ball when threatened; engages in self anointing with frothy saliva.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Omnivorous, but eats mostly invertebrates such as beetles, larvae, slugs, worms and spiders; also small vertebrate prey, eggs, fruit and fungi. Apparently relishes bread and milk, dog food and kitchen scraps provided by people.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Probably polygynous. Mates from April to August, the later pairings generally occur if first litter is lost or aborted. Gestation lasts 31-35 days, litter size varies from 2 to 10, and 4 to 6 is normal for most parts of range. Young are born in nest of leaves, blind and virtually naked. First soft, white spines begin to be replaced by adult-type spines between 2 and 7 days old. Young are tended by female only and weaned at 4 to 6 weeks. Sexually mature at 12 months, maximum longevity 7 years (10 in captivity), usually much less.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened; common and widespread. Road traffic and winter starvation are major factors in mortality.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Generally a well-known animal, welcomed into gardens where it eats many invertebrate pests; a popular figure in folklore and children's stories; may be eaten, though the practice of hunting for meat is increasingly uncommon. ♦

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