Let’s hear it for hedgehogs!
Prickly, small and so often forgotten, Caroline Quentin explains why the humble hedgehog should be cherished
Caroline Quentin on why we should celebrate the small, prickly mammals
Have you ever been up close and personal with a hedgehog? I hadn’t, until very recently, when, while walking the dogs, I came across a prickly little body that had been hit by a car. The startling sight of a soft flaxen underbelly, so vulnerable and unexpected, stopped me in my tracks. I realised in that moment I’d never knowingly been so near a hedgehog before.
Unsurprising, I suppose, given that they are nocturnal creatures and, let’s face it, not exactly extroverted. Unlike say, a stag, they don’t bellow out across the valley during the mating season, and where a fox will cross your path, look you right in the eye, devilishly handsome and sharp as a razor – like George Clooney in a red velvet smoking jacket – a hedgehog is more likely to snuffle off into the undergrowth or roll into a ball as you approach and fend you off with his sharp little spikes.
I have to admit that as a species they really haven’t entered my consciousness very much, dead or alive. I recall, fondly, the mop-capped Mrs Tiggy-winkle from the Beatrix Potter books and I think, in my youth, there was briefly a public information film on television reminding us not to light our bonfires before
checking them for hibernating hedgehogs. In recent years, I’ve been aware of Sonic the animated hedgehog, who sports a whacking great blue mohican, but in all honesty, I have pretty much ignored the small spiny mammal.
Furze-pigs or hedgepigs, the names that country people where I live in mid-devon may still use, are an increasingly rare sight. I’m aware that they eat slugs and as a keen gardener, I think that should be celebrated, but they also eat fruit, worms, baby mice, frogs and all manner of insects. With the increased use of insecticides on crops, it seems likely that the reduced number of insects means there’s less grub (and fewer grubs) for hedgehogs to munch on. Many are run over like the one I came across on my recent walk, but the unexplained rapid decline in numbers is still a bit of a mystery.
How do hedgehogs mate? Carefully, would be the obvious answer given their prickly bodies, but actually, females have the ability to flatten their spines during mating, presumably to make the coupling more comfortable. That reminds me – I must shave my legs! The gestation period for pregnant females is around 40 days and although she may a have a litter of four or five hoglets in May, June or July, only two or three will wean successfully.
Now that I’ve found out a little about these creatures, I shall try to be more observant. I’ll drive more carefully, too, in the hope that the next hedgehog I encounter will be a beautiful, bright eyed furze-pig, full of life, snuffling and waddling about the veg patch, happily gorging on slugs and snails!