Erinaceus europaeus (European hedgehog) is commonly found across Europe and into central Asia. Native to this region, it can be found from the Archipelago of the Azores and as far east as Khazakstan. It is commonly seen in northern Europe, as far as Scandinavia. While it is generally not found south of the Mediterranean Sea, it has been seen in Lebanon. Erinaceus europaeus is also found in New Zealand, where they were introduced in the late 1800s.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); australian (Introduced )
The European hedgehog is a small, round animal with short legs that raise it about 1 inch above the ground. It is plantigrade and has 5 well developed pads and claws on each foot. The first and fifth toes are smaller and weaker than the second, third, and fourth toes. Its coat is white and brown and consists of 3/4 to 1 inch spines, arranged in a radiating pattern, that cover all but its cheeks, throat, stomach, and limbs. Areas not covered in spines are covered in a coarse hair that is yellow-brown in color, though white hedgehogs have been seen. It has an elongated, conical head and snout, a small braincase, a short neck and tail, and well developed eyes and ears. The length of its body ranges from 135 to 265 mm, and males are usually slightly larger than females. The tail is about 20 mm long.
The spines covering the European hedgehog's body have white tips and bases and are covered with alternating brown and black bands. They are hollow and have longitudinal grooves, which decrease their weight. Spines are made of keratin and are attached to the skin in a similar way to hair. Each spine grows from a follicle in the skin that is attached to a small muscle (arrector pili) that is used for piloerection. When a hedgehog rolls into a ball, all of the spines can be erected simultaneously, which is made possible by the panniculus carnosis, a sheet of muscle that covers its back. An adult hedgehog usually has around 5,000 spines covering its body.
Erinaceus europaeus has lacteal and permanent teeth. The permanent dentition features widely space upper incisors such that the lower incisors fit between them. The dental formula for E. europaeus is 3/2, 1/1, 2/3, 3/3.
Range mass: 800 to 1200 g.
Range length: 135 to 165 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Average basal metabolic rate: 2.434 W.
The European hedgehog is found in temperate fields, especially field edges and hedgerows. They prefer drier areas that are not thickly wooded and are occasionally found in scrub and sand dunes. European hedgehogs are commensal and are often found in home gardens, cemeteries, parks, agroecosystems, and other areas that provide appropriate places for hibernation. It commonly occupies elevations from sea level to 2400 m throughout its geographic range.
Range elevation: 0 to 2400 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian
Habitat and Ecology
European hedgehogs are omnivorous, but predominantly feed on insects. They favor beetles, ants, bees, wasps, earwigs, butterflies and moths. Hedgehogs may also eat cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, snails, eggs, lizards, snakes, frogs, small rodents, and carrion.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; eggs; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; terrestrial worms
Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
Hedgehogs are omnivorous, feeding on a wide variety of animal (especially insect) and plant material. They may help control insect pest populations in some areas. Hedgehogs are hosts to a variety of parasites including nematodes (Crenosoma striatum, Eucoleus aerophilus, Capillaria erinacei, Capillaria ovoreticulata and Capillaria spp.), trematodes (Brachylaemus erinacei), acanthocephalans (Oliganthorhynchus erinacei), ticks (Ixodes hexagonus), and fleas (Archeopsylla erinacei).
- Ixodes hexagonus
- Crenosoma striatum
- Eucoleus aerophilus
- Capillaria erinacei
- Capillaria ovoreticulata
- Brachylaemus erinacei
- Oliganthorhynchus erinacei
- Archeopsylla erinacei
Predators of the Erinaceus europaeus include dogs, foxes, snakes, large owls, and badgers. To protect themselves, hedgehogs have the ability to curl into a defensive ball that exposes only erected spines. In order to form into a ball, they constriction the panniculus carnosus muscle. When this occurs, the muscles associated with each spine contract, leaving all of the hedgehog’s spines erect. Some predators, such as badgers and foxes, may be able to gain access to the hedgehog by wedging their noses into the crease where the top and bottom of the spiny coat meet. Predators have also been known to drop a balled hedgehog from a height so as to shock or injure the hedgehog long enough for them to take advantage of its exposed underbelly.
- badgers Meles meles
- foxes Vulpes vulpes
- owls Strigidae
- dogs Canis lupus
- snakes Serpentes
adult of Archaeopsylla erinacei erinacei sucks the blood of ear of Erinaceus europaeus
Animal / pathogen
Foot and Mouth virus (FMD) infects Erinaceus europaeus
Other: minor host/prey
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
larva of Ixodes hexagonus sucks the blood of face of Erinaceus europaeus
Other: major host/prey
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
Ixodes ricinus sucks the blood of Erinaceus europaeus
Known prey organisms
Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Felis silvestris libyca
Canis lupus familiaris
Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
European hedgehogs are not particularly noisy, and make mostly grunting, snorting, and hoarse squeaking sounds. Adults are vocal during mating, while feeding, and occasionally when captured. Young may squeak and whistle while in the nest. Due to its nocturnal behavior, European hedgehogs rely heavily on their senses of smell and hearing. In addition to having a well developed sense of smell, they, like many mammals, have a Jacobson's organ in their palate. The organ may have a role in social behavior as both male and female hedgehogs have a variety of scent glands. While the mechanisms of hearing in E. europaeus have not been well studied, research on a related species, the Long-eared hedgehog, has found it capable of processing high-frequency sounds up to 45kHz.
Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
In the wild, European hedgehogs can live up to six years. In captivity, they can live as many as ten years.
Status: wild: 8 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 11.7 (high) years.
Status: wild: 6 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 10 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
European hedgehogs are solitary and non-territorial. They begin the mating process when a male encounters a female, at which time the male encircles the female while she lowers her head and makes a variety snorts, grunts, and hisses. If the male is successful in courting the female, he attempts to mount her several times. After numerous copulations, the male leaves the female, and does not provide any parental care to his offspring. He continues to roam alone and attempts to mate with other females until he begins preparing for hibernation. Males and females have multiple mates each season.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Erinaceus europaeus begins mating in late spring (April or May) when the the animal emerges from hibernation. Males, which emerge 3 to 4 weeks before females, expand their home range during mating season to increase chances of finding a mate. When a male finds a mate, he circles her while she lowers her nose and becomes audibly defensive. The male may circle for several hours, making several attempts to mount. If the female continually rejects the male, he eventually leaves to find a receptive female. If she accepts him, she flattens her spines and lowers herself to the ground, which gives the male better access. To copulate, a male climbs onto a female's back and uses his teeth to hold onto her shoulder. Gestation last for about 35 days. Females give birth to four to six offspring per litter, and often have two litters per year. The second litter, which is born later in the year, has a reduced chance of surviving winter. New borns are about 3 inches long and weigh 0.3 to 0.9 oz. At birth, E. europaeus does not appear to have spines, which are concealed beneath their fluid filled skin. 24 hours after birth, the fluid is absorbed and the spines are revealed, and, 2 to 3 days later, the young’s musculature is developed enough to allow it to hold the spines erect. These white adolescent spines are replaced by darker spines after about 1.5 days. Pigmented adult spines replace the first two coats after about 2 to 3 weeks, at which time young begin to open their eyes and learn how to roll into a ball. Young are weaned by 4 to 6 weeks old, after which they become independent of parental care, and are able to mate by about 1 year.
Breeding interval: Hedgehogs breed seasonally, and can have up to two litters per season
Breeding season: April to September
Range number of offspring: 1 to 9.
Range gestation period: 30 to 49 days.
Range weaning age: 4 to 6 weeks.
Range time to independence: 4 to 6 weeks.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 253 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 253 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 14.7 g.
Average number of offspring: 1.5.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 253 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 253 days.
Weaning usually occurs 6 weeks after birth, at which time young European hedhogs begin venturing out of the nest with their mother. They begin to forage and create an overwintering nest on their own. Most individuals are sexually mature by the first spring after their born.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female)
Evolution and Systematics
The spines of hedgehogs function as shock-absorbers during falls thanks to their honeycomb-like core and longitudinal stiffening.
"In the second category, comprising animals with masses between about 100 kilograms and 100 grams (4 ounces), falling may be injurious, but the fall must involve a distance greater than the height of the animal…Hedgehogs (about 500--1,000 grams in mass), are also just above the lower limit, but, according to Vincent and Owers (1986), cope with falls by using a special device--spines that can act as shock absorbers." (Vogel 2003:44)
"[T]he hedgehog spine is a shock-absorber…The foam-like structure down the center of spines and quills supports the thin outer walls against local buckling, allowing the structure to bend further without failing…Porcupine quills perform more or less the same as hollow cylinders in buckling as struts with an axial load; in bending they are 40% or so better. But the spines of the hedgehog, with their square honeycomb core and longitudinal stiffening, are three times better than they would be without the core." (Vincent 2002:30-31)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Erinaceus europaeus
Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.
Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Erinaceus europaeus
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Formerly a common sight in the UK, local populations of Erinaceus europaeus appear to be rapidly declining. Despite this, E. europaeus is listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. The reasons for its decline are unclear, however, E. europaeus has been included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Hedgehogs are potential vectors for a number of parasites and pathogens including ticks, fleas, mites, ringworm, influenza, yellow fever, Salmonella enteritidis, leptospirosis, and foot and mouth disease.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); causes or carries domestic animal disease
Hedgehogs are routinely kept as pets, but the European hedgehog is forbidden as a pet in Europe. Due to their broad diet, hedgehogs may help control insect pests. They have proven useful for the study of numerous diseases including foot and mouth disease, yellow fever, and influenza. Their hair and spines are useful in assessing for environmental pollutants including arsenic, silver, cadmium, lead, cobalt, and Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs). Traditional remedies have incorporated the blood, entrails, or ashes of European hedgehogs, and some rituals involving hedgehogs have been used to cure baldness and predict the weather. Ancient Romans raised hedgehogs for their meat, and they used parts of the hedgehog, especially their spiny coat, for training work animals.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; research and education; controls pest population
The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus: Linnaeus, 1758), also known as the West European hedgehog or common hedgehog, is a hedgehog species found in western Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula and Italy northwards into Scandinavia. It is a generally common and widely distributed species that can survive across a wide range of habitat types. It is a well-known species, and a favourite in European gardens, both for its endearing appearance and its preference for eating a range of garden pests. While populations are currently stable across much of its range, it is thought to be declining severely in the UK.
E. europaeus has a generalised body structure with unspecialised limb girdles. The animal appears brownish with most of its body covered by up to 6,000 brown and white spines. Length of head and body is ~160 mm (6.3 in) at weaning, increasing to 260 mm (10 in) or more in large adults. This species has an extremely short tail as an almost vestigal feature, typically 20 to 30 mm (0.79 to 1.18 in). Weight increases from around 120 g (4.2 oz) at weaning to > 1,100 g (2.4 lb) in adulthood. The maximum recorded weight is 2,000 g (4.4 lb), though few wild specimens exceed 1,600 g (3.5 lb) even in autumn. Adult summer weight is typically somewhat less than in autumn, with an average of around 800 g (1.8 lb) and adult weights commonly as low as 500 g (1.1 lb). Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but sex differences in body weight are overshadowed by enormous seasonal variation.
E. europaeus is unlike any other creature across most of its range. Where it co-exists with the Northern white-breasted hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), the two species are difficult to distinguish in the field, the latter having a white spot on its chest. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, E. europaeus is probably the largest species of hedgehog and is possibly the heaviest member of the Erinaceomorpha order, although the moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura), similar in average mass if not known to equal to the hedgehog's maximum weight, can attain a considerably greater length.
Leucistic, or 'blonde' hedgehogs occasionally occur. Such specimens are believed to have a pair of rare recessive genes, giving rise to their black eyes and creamy-coloured spines; however, they are not strictly speaking albino. They are extremely rare, except on North Ronaldsay and the Channel Island of Alderney where around 25% of the population is thought to be blonde. True albino forms of the hedgehog do also occur infrequently.
This species is largely nocturnal. It has a hesitant gait, frequently stopping to smell the air. Unlike the smaller, warmer-climate species, the European hedgehog may hibernate in the winter. However, most wake at least once to move their nests. They are solitary in nature with mature males behaving aggressively towards each other. Occasionally a male and female may share a hibernating spot.
The European hedgehog is omnivorous, feeding mainly on invertebrates. Its diet includes slugs, earthworms, beetles, caterpillars and other insects. The preferred arthropods are the millipedes Glomeris marginata and Tachypodoiulus niger as well as the ground beetle Carabus nemoralis. It also eats grass snakes, vipers, frogs, fish, small rodents, young birds and birds' eggs. Some fruits and mushrooms may supplement the diet.
The breeding season commences after hibernation. Pregnancies peak between May and July, though they have been recorded as late as September. Gestation is 31 to 35 days. The female alone raises the litter which typically numbers between four and six, though can range from two to ten. Studies have indicated that litter size may increase in more northern climes. The young are born blind with a covering of small spines. By the time they are 36 hours old, the second, outer coat of spines begins to sprout. By 11 days they can roll into a ball. Weaning occurs at four to six weeks of age.
Longevity and mortality
European hedgehogs may live to ten years of age, although the average life expectancy is three years. Starvation is the most common cause of death, usually occurring during hibernation. If alarmed, the animal will roll into a ball to protect itself. Many potential predators are repelled by its spines, but predation does occur. Remains of hedgehogs have been found in the stomachs of European badgers (Meles meles), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and pine martens (Martes martes). A large portion of these may be from hedgehog carcasses, especially road-kill. However, hedgehogs tend to be absent from areas where badgers are numerous. Eurasian eagle-owls (Bubo bubo) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are the only regular avian predators of this species and may even prefer them as prey. The owl, after grabbing the hedgehog by its face, tends to skin the mammal's prickly back with its talons before consumption, resulting in several hedgehog backs being found around eagle-owl roosts and nests. In Spain, reductions of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) numbers due to rabbit haemorrhagic disease has made the European hedgehog one of the top preferred prey species for eagle-owls. Elsewhere, eagle-owls often prefer these hedgehogs to any other prey species, as the hedgehog can comprise up to 23% by number and 30.7% by biomass of eagle-owl prey remains. On the Swedish island of Gotland the golden eagle may take larger numbers of hedgehogs than any other prey due to an otherwise low diversity of native land mammals, although the introduction of European rabbits has shifted the eagle's prey preferences there.
The European hedgehog is endemic to Europe (including European Russia), with a global distribution extending from the British Isles and the Iberian peninsula eastwards through much of western to central Europe, and from southern Fennoscandia and the northern Baltic to north-west Russia. Present also on Mediterranean islands (Corsica, Sardinia, Elba, Sicily), on most of the French Atlantic islands as well as on British Islands (autochthonous and introduced). It is an invasive exotic species in New Zealand and has probably been introduced to Ireland and many of the smaller islands where it occurs.
The European hedgehog is found across a wide range of habitat types, encompassing both semi-natural vegetation types and those areas that have been heavily modified by man. The range includes woodland, grasslands such as meadows and pasture, arable land, orchards and vineyards as well as within the matrix of habitat types found in human settlements. It prefers lowlands and hills up to 400-600m, but is also locally present on mountains, exceptionally up to and altitude of 1500-200m (e.g. Alps and Pyrénées). Outside cultivated land it prefers marginal zones of forests, particularly ecotonal grass and scrub vegetation.
Hedgehogs are most abundant within the gardens, parks and amenity land close to or within human settlements. They are generally scarce in areas of coniferous woodland, marshes and moorland, probably because of a lack of suitable sites and materials for the construction of winter nests (or hibernacula), which have specific requirements.
Generally, the hedgehog is widely distributed and can be found in good numbers where people are tolerant of their residence in gardens. To date, the IUCN classifies the species as Least Concern and currently the population as Stable. In some areas, they are common victims of road kills and may be hunted by dogs, such as in Sardinia. On 28 August 2007, the new Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) [launched in 1997] included the European hedgehog on the list of species and habitats in the UK that need conservation and greater protection.
Status in the UK
An estimate of 36.5 million by Burton was based on extrapolating up from a density of 2.5 animals/ha (one per acre), but this was based on limited data and is probably an overestimate. A more recent estimate of 1,550,000 in Great Britain (England 1,100,000, Scotland 310,000, Wales 140,000) is more reliable, but still has a high degree of uncertainty as it is based on very limited information about hedgehog density estimates for different habitat types. Given this figure, and more firmly established rates of decline, it is now thought likely that there are fewer than a million hedgehogs in Great Britain.
In 2007 the hedgehog was classified a Biodiversity Action Plan ‘priority’ species in the UK, largely in response to negative trends identified in national surveys such as Mammals on Roads survey, run by People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), that found an annual decline in counts of road casualties of around 7% from 2001 to 2004. Historic data from the National Gamebag Census suggest a steady decline between 1960 and 1980. Evidence from a questionnaire in 2005 and 2006 also supported an ongoing decline, with almost half of ~20,000 participants in PTES' Hogwatch survey reporting the impression that there were fewer hedgehogs than there were five years earlier.
A review of the available survey data for the population trend of the hedgehog in the UK was undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in a report commissioned by PTES and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS). This concluded that, at a conservative estimate, 25% of the UK hedgehog population had been lost in a decade. The report also highlighted the importance of long-term monitoring to provide datasets with sufficient power to allow the changes to the population to be identified. Currently, the most important monitoring programmes involved in collecting information about the status of the UK hedgehog population are PTES’ Mammals on Roads and Living with Mammals surveys, and the BTO Breeding Bird Survey and Garden BirdWatch survey.
This species has become a serious pest in areas where it has been introduced outside of its native range. One such location is the Western Isles of Scotland, where introduced hedgehogs eat the eggs of ground-nesting waders such as common snipe, dunlin, common redshank and northern lapwing. It is also considered a pest in New Zealand where it preys upon various native fauna.
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