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HEDGEHOG CARE INFORMATION



Hedgehogs

hedgehogjpg

The African Hedgehogs are originally from the savanna and semiarid zones of northern Africa, from Senegal to Somalia to Tanzania. They have a wide variety of habitats including grasslands, scrub, savanna, and suburban gardens. They can survive in temperatures ranging from 65F to 100F, but seem to do best between 72F and 85F. They are partial to dry habitats. They are natural burrowers and love to sleep in termite holes, rock crevices, buildings, or under brush tangles or dry leaf litter. These places additionally provide an abundance of ground dwelling insects and other invertebrates which hedgehogs love. They can live up to 10 years in captivity.

Hedgehogs are small insectivores looking much like an upside-down oval bowl, that is covered with sharp quills, with an adorable little face and ears peeking out from one end. Neither legs nor tail are very visible during normal movement. Hedgehogs roll into a ball of projecting spines when threatened, leaving themselves all but invulnerable to any natural predator.

Hedgehogs tend to be quite nervous in their temperament, and will generally duck their head down, accompanied by rapid snuffling or snorting. This presents a very prickly forehead to any possible enemies. The more used to you (and awake) a hedgehog is, the less they will duck down and snuffle, and the more their quills will be flat.

Grzimek's Animal Encyclopedia says that they weigh about 200-220 grams (about seven ounces); this is for wild animals. Captives seem to be much larger; the smallest of our three hedgehogs is 250 g and growing, and our large male weighs about 400-450 g when he isn't overweight. (However, all our animals have come from exceptionally large bloodlines.) Adults are about six to eight inches long, depending on how far they're stretching when you measure.

As pets go, hedgehogs are generally not cuddly lap-fungus type pets, but if you want something that's a little different, not too big, and definitely adorable, then maybe a hedgehog is for you.

Hedgehogs are also quite low maintenance, and they are nocturnal. They are small, but not too small.

There are only a few things that are essential to keep a pet hedgehog. Basically a warm place to live (either a large cage/pen/aquarium, or a room -- if you want to let your hedgehog run free), a food dish (preferably one that is not easy to tip over), a water bottle, such as for Guinea pigs, (water dishes can tend to become soiled and baby hedgehogs can easily drown in them, but adults often like them), and last but not least, something big enough for your hedgehog to hide in as a den. It is also a good idea to have a shallow litter box or pan (although not all hedgehogs seem inclined to use them), and some type of bedding, pine or aspen shavings, clean straw, etc., but NOT cedar.

An exercise wheel (big enough for a hedgehog) is also strongly recommended -- especially for hedgehogs that don't have the run of the house. Hedgehogs tend to be surprisingly energetic, and need the chance to use up some of this energy. In addition, it appears more and more that hedgehogs who have and use wheels live much longer and generally seem not to come down with some of the more common serious ailments, such as Fatty Liver Disease. A proper wheel is more of a necessity than a luxury.

Self-anointing. What is it? Why do hedgehogs do it?

Nathan Tenny provided a good description of this interesting and perplexing hedgehog habit:

If you smell *really* interesting, your hedgehog will lick or nibble on you, back off, and suddenly contort itself, start foaming at the mouth, and lick the foam onto its spines. This " self-anointing'' has to be seen to be believed, but it's perfectly normal. It's not known for sure why they do it, but it probably has something to do with self-defence; hedgehogs are *highly* resistant to most toxins, and when they encounter something that might be toxic, they get it in their mouths, foam, and cover themselves with the toxic mixture. The result is a toxic hedgehog, which is really something to reckon with. (Incidentally, the toxin resistance of hedgehogs is truly prodigious and has been the subject of some research; they are one of the few animals that can safely eat giant toads (_Bufo marinus_), for instance.)

One more last note: We don't know why this happens, but even without the benefit of self-anointing, their spines seem to have a mild toxic/irritant effect; when you prick yourself on one, even slightly, it hurts more than it should, and for a little bit longer. No big deal, just sort of strange.

One of the most effective ways to provoke a session of self-anointing is to pick up your hedgehog when you have sweaty hands, or after having used hand lotion, or a different type of soap.

In any case, once you have witnessed this entertaining act, and you have calmed down enough to understand your little friend doesn't have rabies after all, you will likely be convinced that hedgehogs do not have backbones.

It's really hard to believe something as round as a hedgehog can twist itself into that contorted a position. It's also a bit disconcerting to learn just how long that tongue is!

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