European Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus
The European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), also known as the common hedgehog, can be found in western and northern Europe. Its range extends from the Iberian Peninsula and the British Isles to the central and western areas of Europe. Its southern range includes Fennoscandia and its northern range stretches from the Baltic to north-west Russia. This species has been introduced onto many European islands and possibly New Zealand. It prefers a habitat within meadows, grasslands, and woodland areas. The European hedgehog prefers to reside on the boundaries of these areas, but is not often found living in these natural habitats. It is now most commonly found on the green borders of human settlements, and is often placed in gardens by humans. In areas populated by humans, it is often found in parks, farmlands, vineyards, and orchards.
The European hedgehog can reach an average body length between 7.9 and 12 inches, with a weight of up to 2.6 pounds just before hibernation. It is thought that this species is the largest within its family, although the moonrat reaches a greater body length. Most of its body is brown in color, although the tips of the sharp spines that appear all over the body are white. There are individuals that are blonde in color, but these are not albinos. Although these color variants are rare, a population resides on the Channel Island of Alderney, and is thought to number in the thousands. It is said that they cannot contract fleas, and are thought to be a localized variant exclusive to the island.
The European hedgehog is nocturnal and is typically solitary. During hibernation, a male and female may share a nest, but adult males are highly aggressive towards one another. Unlike its relatives that reside in warmer habitats, this species is known to hibernate during the winter, but will awaken to move a nest at least once during the season. The breeding season begins after hibernation, with most pregnancies occurring between the months of May and July, only 31 to 35 days after breeding. The average litter contains four to six young, although between two and ten young can be born. It is thought that larger litters occur more often in the northern areas of its range. The mother takes sole responsibility for the young, which are born blind. The spines of this species will begin to grow in at 36 days, and the young are weaned at four to six weeks.
The diet of the European hedgehog consists mainly of invertebrates, including beetles, slugs, earthworms, and caterpillars. It will also eat millipedes, frogs, bird eggs, and fish. It is thought that mushrooms and fruit may supplement its diet. The average lifespan of this species is three years although some individuals can live to be ten years of age.
Starvation is the main cause of death, especially during hibernation. Its spines provide great protection from predation, but some predators still consume the European hedgehog. These include pine martens, European badgers, and red foxes. It is thought that these predators do not hunt the European hedgehog, but rather scavenge the carcasses left behind as road kill. Eurasian eagle-owls and golden eagles may prefer to hunt the European hedgehog.
In areas where the European hedgehog has been introduced, it is now thought of as a pest. In New Zealand, this hedgehog consumes many native plants and in the Western Isles of Scotland, it consumes the eggs of many types of birds including Common snipe and the dunlin. Throughout its range, the European hedgehog is widely spread. In a few areas, dogs hunt this species, but this is not a major threat to its population numbers. In 2007, the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) added the European hedgehog to its list of U.K. species and environments that need increased conservation and protection. Populations in Poland and Denmark are protected by law, and are not allowed to be hunted for any reason, but individuals can be captured and kept in a house during the winter if they are underweight. The European hedgehog appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.
Image Caption: West European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). photographed in the Emmerdennen(wood), Emmen, Netherlands. Credit: Hrald/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)