Ireland's Biodiversity Awareness Campaign

Species of the Month

Below is a list of our previous 'Species of the Month'

Common Yew Tree
Witches' Butter
Oak
Hen Harrier
Eurasian Otter
Harbour Porpoise
Rat
Snowdrop
Blackthorn
Frog
Holly
Fox
Butterfiles of Ireland
Hare
Corncrake
Barn Owl
Hedgehog
Robin


The Hedgehog

 

The Hedgehog – An Gráinneog (Erinaceus europaeus)

The hedgehog is a familiar species in the Irish countryside. It is a small creature - weighing between 600-900 grammes and is about 25 cm in length. Its back is covered with over 5,000 brown, grey, and white coloured spines and it has coarse hair on its belly and its face. When a hedgehog feels threatened, it rolls itself into a ball and its spines help protect it from many predators.


Habitat & Diet

The hedgehog habitat is mainly hedgerows, woodlands and meadows, but they are also commonly found in sub-urban gardens. Within their habitat, they normally have a few sleeping nests. As they are nocturnal creatures, it is not until after dusk that they leave these nests to forage for food. The hedgehog rustles through leaf litter looking for insects such as beetles and caterpillars, and invertebrates including earthworms and slugs. They also feed on fruits and berries, especially in the early autumn when these food sources are readily available.

Hibernation

During the winter months, when food supplies become more scarce, hedgehogs enter into a period of hibernation. Hibernation is akin to a period of deep sleep. The hedgehogs body temperature drops to match the temperature of its surroundings and its heart rate and metabolism slow down. It lives off its fat reserves until the end of hibernation which is usually in March/April.

 

Breeding

Hedgehogs breed between March and October. After a gestation period of about 32 days, three to five hedgehog ‘pups’ are born. Within about two weeks,  the pups’ eyes start to open and spines begin to appear on their backs. They are independent at six weeks old and as hedgehogs are solitary creatures, the pups then go their separate ways.

 

Conservation

Many hedgehogs die each year from a number of hazards, many of which are caused by man. Common causes of death in hedgehogs include road kill and poisoning from chemicals. Hedgehogs also frequently die from drowning and from falling into cattle grids. Many hedgehogs make their hibernation and ‘maternity’ nests in our gardens. It is important that hedgehogs are not disturbed during hibernation as they waste energy and can die from stress.  Also, mothers must not be disturbed after they have just given birth as they may abandon their nests. Easy steps can be taken to help conserve hedgehogs, which will not only benefit them, but also you! Hedgehogs are an excellent form of pest control as they eat slugs and snails which often feed on garden plants. The following are some tips to help encourage and protect hedgehogs in your garden:

 

Interesting Hedgehog Facts

©2007 Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government