african_pygmy_hedgehogAfrican Pygmy Hedgehog

Atelerix albiventris

Description

The African Pygmy Hedgehog is a small mammal with a long snout. The upper part of its body is covered with short, protective spines. Spines are white at the bases and tips and black in the middle. The face and underside of the hedgehog are covered in soft white or brown fur.

Size

A full-grown African Pygmy Hedgehog is between 6 and 11 inches long and weighs 18-25 ounces (510-708 grams).

Adaptations

  • If a hedgehog is threatened, it can roll into a ball so that its protective spines completely surround the outside of its body.
  • Wild hedgehogs depend on their excellent senses of hearing and smell to avoid predators. Their long snouts are also very effective at locating food.
  • Hedgehogs have a natural immunity to the venom of certain animals. This allows them to consume small venomous snakes and arthropods.
  • If a hedgehog encounters an object that produces an unfamiliar smell, it will lick the object and form a frothy paste inside its mouth. It then uses its tongue to spread the paste over its spines. This is thought to camouflage the hedgehog’s natural scent, and to deter predators who will often avoid the new and potentially irritating substance. This behavior is referred to as “anointing”.

Diet

African Pygmy Hedgehogs feed primarily on insects in the wild. They also consume small reptiles and amphibians (such as snakes and frogs), eggs, invertebrates such as scorpions, spiders, and insects, and small mammals and birds. A small part of their diet consists of plant material including fruit, seeds, and nuts. The African Pygmy Hedgehogs at Cosley Zoo are fed fruits, vegetables, crickets, mealworms, and a processed insectivore (insect-eater) diet for balanced nutrition.

Reproduction

The gestation period for the African Pygmy Hedgehog is about 35 days. Young hedgehogs (called “hedgehoglets” or “hoglets”) are born in litters containing 2-10 individuals. Hedgehoglets are born with soft white spines. At the time of birth, the young hedgehog’s skin is swollen and filled with fluid, covering the spines so that the mother is not injured during the birthing process. Within a few days, the swelling decreases and new, darker spines begin to grow in. Females can give birth to several litters per year.

Shelter and Space Needs

Wild hedgehogs are native to desert and savanna areas in Africa. They are nocturnal animals that sleep in burrows during the day and look for food at night. In the dry season, when the supply of insects is scarce, the hedgehogs enter a dormant state in which their bodies slow down and they live off of stored fat. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are also popular pets in the United States, although there are some parts of the country where it is illegal to keep them. Pet hedgehogs require a warm environment with adequate room to exercise, a sleeping area where they can feel safe and secure, and a high-protein diet containing a variety of food items.

Life Expectancy

African Pygmy Hedgehogs can live 8-10 years in captivity and 2-3 years in the wild.

Importance to Man

In areas where hedgehogs are native, people often encourage the animals to come into their gardens as a form of pest control. Hedgehogs have historically been used as a food source, although this is uncommon today. Domestic hedgehogs are often kept as pets in homes and classrooms in the United States.

Fun Facts

  • Hedgehogs are quite vocal and can make a variety of sounds, such as hisses, growls, squeals, and chirps.
  • The spines of an adult hedgehog are permanent and cannot easily be removed without injury to the animal. However, young hedgehogs do lose the spines they are born with, replacing them with adult spines in a process called “quilling”.
  • Long before Groundhog Day began, the ancient Romans are thought to have celebrated “Hedgehog Day”, using a hedgehog to predict the coming of spring the same way we do with groundhogs today. North Americans kept the tradition but changed the animal forecaster because there are no native hedgehogs in this part of the world.