Did you know..?
Hedgehogs have between 5,000 and 7,000 prickles on their backs.
Look closer at the image of a hedgehog
- What three words would students use to describe a hedgehog?
- Students can take a close look at this hedgehog’s sharp claws here. What do they think hedgehogs use these for?
- They can also look closely at its pointed face here. Why do they think it has such a long snout?
What kind of animal is a hedgehog?
Hedgehogs are the only spiny mammal in Britain. Like all mammals, they breathe air, are warm blooded and have a backbone. They also grow hair on their bodies and produce milk to feed their young.
Where do hedgehogs live?
Hedgehogs like to live in hedgerows, the edges of woodland, parks and our back gardens. These habitats are good places for finding the kind of food they like to eat, and where they can make safe, cosy nests from moss, twigs and leaves.
Hedgehogs are mostly active at night (nocturnal), when they like to roam around their local area, travelling up to 2km. They hibernate through the winter.
What do hedgehogs eat?
Hedgehogs are omnivores which means they eat both other animals and plants. Their favourite things to eat are beetles, caterpillars, worms and slugs, but they will also eat other insects, mushrooms and fruit.
Hedgehogs are an indicator species – because hedgehogs feed on creatures found in the soil, a decline in hedgehogs also indicates a decline in the quality of our natural environment. They are also a great help to gardeners, gobbling up slugs and other unwanted pests.
How are hedgehogs adapted to their habitats?
A hedgehog’s back paws have long, constantly growing nails which help them to burrow down under hedges or piles of leaves. Their pointed noses and good sense of smell are perfect rooting out small creatures to eat in the undergrowth, especially as their eyesight is not very good.
Hedgehogs are famous for being able to tuck in their heads and legs and roll themselves into a ball in times of danger. Special muscles raise the spikes on their back so that they no longer lie flat but stick straight up. While this protects them against most predators (such as badgers), sadly, it’s also one of the reasons so many hedgehogs are killed on our roads.
Are hedgehogs endangered?
The numbers of hedgehogs have nearly halved over the past 13 years. This is thought to be mainly due to habitat loss.
Changes in farming methods and the development of land for housing, transport and industry have led to removal of hedgerows and woodlands. These factors also ‘fragment’ hedgehog habitats, with roads, curbs, fences and other barriers preventing them from roaming around at night.
Pesticides used both in farming and in urban gardens (such as slug pellets) are also a problem. These kill the creatures that hedgehogs like to eat, as well as poisoning them directly.
Hedgehogs are on the red list for mammals, which means they are at risk of extinction.
What can we do to help hedgehogs?
- Students can create cosy corners in their school grounds or gardens, using logs, compost heaps and/or piles of leaves. The Natural History Museum has this guide to creating a wildlife-friendly garden.
- They can leave out water and food – hedgehogs love cat food (this is much better for them than the traditional bread and milk, which upsets their stomachs).
- If you have a pond in your school grounds or garden, make sure it has sloping sides or small stones so a hedgehog can get out if it falls in. They swim well, but tire easily and can drown if they’re unable to escape.
- Try making a hedgehog haven in your school grounds using these ideas from the Natural History Museum
- The Natural History Museum also has this great idea for making a hedgehog footprint tunnel, so you can see whether they are visiting a school or home garden when students are asleep.
Find out more about hedgehogs
- BBC video: how hedgehogs live through the different seasons
- Hedgehog street
- RSPCA – hedgehog fact file and tips for helping them
- British Hedgehog Preservation Society
- RSPB: why is it important to give hedgehogs a home?