TECHNIQUE

Marking Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog (Mammal Husbandry & Management)

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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Hedgehogs: Health & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords See also: Tracking Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) (Techniques)
Description This page has been prepared for the "Hedgehogs: Health and Management" Wildpro volume, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog

1) Colour marking Spines:

  • Quick-drying non-toxic waterproof paint or coloured nail varnish may be used to mark hedgehogs.(N6.29.w1)
  • The paint/varnish is applied to a group of spines using a brush or spray, taking care that it does not touch the skin.
  • Combinations of colours can be used to identify several individuals.
  • Quadrant (right shoulder, right rump, left shoulder, left rump) paint marking, or other developed schemes, can be used to enable identification of multiple individuals.(B254.22.w22)
  • Large numbers can be painted onto the spines as individual identification.(B260.3.w3)
  • Bright white or metallic paints are most clearly visible at night. (B254.22.w22, B261)
  • Colour marking with paint/varnish is ideal to allow individual marking of hoglets in a litter or animals being kept in an outdoor enclosure or escape-proof garden. It allows individual records to be kept of the animals without relying on natural features for identification.
  • In animals in care the colour can be reapplied as soon as it starts to fade or rub off.
  • In animals which are being studied in the wild, or have been released, identification is possible only so long as some spines remain coloured.

2) Clipping Spines:

  • Areas of spines may be clipped to allow identification of individuals in a study area. 
  • The hedgehog's upper surface is divided into imaginary areas (e.g. head, front left, middle left, hind left etc.) and a patch of spines about 2.5 x 2.5 cm is clipped in one or more areas. 
  • Initial clipping requires anaesthesia of the hedgehog, due to the mobility of the skin. Repeat clippings, if required to prolong the period of identification, can be carried out on the conscious hedgehog.
  • The effect of a single clipping lasts for several months (only a few weeks in juveniles) (P17.49.w1)
  • The area clipped must not be too large or the hedgehog's protection against predators would be reduced.

3) Colour Tubing on Spines:

  • Thin plastic tubing can be placed over a spine and "shrink fitted" onto the spine.
  • If several pieces of tubing are put in place using colour codes the individual can be identified as long as sufficient spines carrying pieces of tubing remain on the hedgehog: a single spine may remain for up to four years.
  • Colour-coded tubing allows recognition of individuals at a distance.
  • Colour coding using combinations of colours and placement on the hedgehog is only useful while enough tubes remain on the hedgehog. The more complex the coding, the sooner (on average) too many spines will be lost to maintain identification. 
  • If tubing with an imprinted alphanumeric code is used, if the hedgehog is re-captured or found dead it can be identified even if only a single marked spine is still present.
  • A combination of colour coding and alphanumeric coding gives the optimum identification: colour coding for distance identification, alphanumeric for precise confirmation even if only one marked spine remains and the colour coding has been lost.

4) Ear Tags:

  • An ear tag is placed into one ear of a hedgehog using a specially designed applicator.
  • The tag bears a unique alphanumeric code identifying the individual animal for as long as the tag remains in the ear.
  • Ear tags can allow identification of large numbers of individuals as each tag can bear a unique alphanumeric code of numbers and letters.
  • Dark ear tags are unobtrusive.
  • Ear tags are not useful for long distance identification; they are useful if the hedgehog can be examined closely, is re-captured or is found dead.
  • Ear tags must be of the correct size and design and placed correctly in the ear to minimise the risk of injury to the hedgehog:
    • The edges must be smooth and rounded to minimise the risk of chaffing.
    • The tag must fit closely to the ear, with the piercing as far from the ear margin as possible so that the outer edge of the tag is snug (but not tight) against the ear margin, to minimise the risk that it will catch on vegetation and tear out (or be torn out by the hedgehog while scratching with its claws).
  • Ear tags if properly designed and fitted can be a safe and effective means of identifying individual hedgehogs for several years.

5) Transponders (microchips)

  • A microchip implanted into a hedgehog provides a unique identification for that hedgehog.
  • Microchips are useful only if the hedgehog can be approached closely as the readers work only at very close range (a few cm).
  • Microchips do sometimes break, in which case the hedgehog can no longer be identified using the chip.
  • Readers for different makes of microchip do not necessarily read the chips of other manufacturers.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Whilst it may be possible to identify some hedgehogs through their individual characteristics, in practice this is very difficult, particularly at night, and marking techniques are required for confidence in recognition.(B254.22.w22)
  • Research into hedgehog movements and home ranges relies on mark-recapture and radio-tracking studies.(B228.4.w4)
  • Marking of small numbers of individual hedgehogs permits observation of individuals, for example of those visiting a feeding station and the social interactions between them. (B260.3.w3)
  • Marking-recapture surveys and techniques for tracking (e.g. line-and-spool, beta-lights, radio-telemetry) have been used to investigate the impact of the introduced hedgehog population on the resident wading bird populations in the Uists, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.(P35.3.w10)
1) Colour marking spines:
  • Combinations of colours and placement on the animal can be used to identify many individuals.
  • Colour marking spines is ideal to allow individual marking of e.g. hoglets in a litter or animals being kept in an outdoor enclosure or escape-proof garden. It allows individual records to be kept of the animals without relying on natural features for identification. (N6.29.w1)
  • Colour marking is also useful for temporary identification after release or in mark-recapture studies.
  • Marking with paint has been shown to last for "several weeks at least" (B260.3.w3) and even for periods of up to six months.(B254.22.w22)

2) Clipping Spines:

  • Spine clipping is a painless procedure.
  • Clip marks can be renewed easily and quickly in the field when hedgehogs are recaptured.
  • Clipped spines may be used to identify individuals over an active season and into the next active season.
  • Clipped spines allow identification of individuals without the need for handling.
  • (B254.22.w22, B260.3.w3, P17.49.w1)

3) Colour Tubing on spines:

  • If several pieces of tubing are put in place using colour codes the individual can be identified as long as sufficient spines carrying pieces of tubing remain on the hedgehog: a single spine may remain for up to four years.
    • Some spines marked with heat-shrink tubing have remained in place for as long as three years. (P37.2.w1)
  • Colour-coded tubing allows recognition of individuals at a distance.
  • If tubing with an imprinted alphanumeric code is used, if the hedgehog is re-captured or found dead it can be identified even if only a single marked spine is still present.
  • A combination of colour coding and alphanumeric coding gives the optimum identification: colour coding for distance identification, alphanumeric for precise confirmation even if only one marked spine remains and the colour coding has been lost

4) Ear Tags:

  • Ear tags can allow identification of large numbers of individuals as each tag can bear a unique alphanumeric code of numbers and letters.
  • Ear tags are simple and quick to put in position. (P37.2.w1)
  • Dark ear tags are unobtrusive.
  • Ear tags if properly designed and fitted can be a safe and effective means of identifying individual hedgehogs for several years.
  • Ear tags are appropriate for identification if the hedgehog can be examined closely, is re-captured or is found dead.
  • If good records are kept and members of the public know who to notify regarding sightings, tags can provide valuable follow-up data. (P37.2.w1)

5) Transponders (microchips):

  • A microchip implanted into a hedgehog provides a unique identification for that hedgehog - permanently if the microchip does not fail.
  • There are no practical limits to the number of individuals which can be identified using microchips.
  • Microchips are useful for mark-recapture studies if it important not to need any external marking on the hedgehog.
  • Microchips are useful for long-term identification of individuals.

6) Luminous tags / Beta lights / luminous paint:

  • Beta lights, luminous tags or blobs of luminous paint can be applied to hedgehogs which are being followed by means of tracking using radio transmitters.
  • The light or luminous paint allows the hedgehog to be spotted at a distance, minimising disturbance of the hedgehog.
Notes

The ideal means of individual identification should be:

  • Safe for the animal, not affecting either behaviour or survival
  • Stress- and pain-free in application
  • Secure and tamper-proof
  • Last for the appropriate length of time
  • Positively and uniquely identify the marked individual,
  • Easily read/observed at a distance
  • Allow appropriate record-keeping
  • Easy to use
  • Readily available at a reasonable price

    (B22.5.w2)

N.B.

  • All forms of identification require good record keeping in order to be maximally useful.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • All forms of marking require that the hedgehog be captured (if in the wild) and held for the mark(s) to be placed. Some forms may require sedation or anaesthesia.
  • Marks are not always clearly visible at a distance. Some marks require close inspection to allow identification.

1) Colour marking spines:

  • In animals which are being studied in the wild, or have been released, identification is possible only so long as some spines remain coloured.
    • Paint marks may only persist for a short time (J147.2.w1, P17.49.w1)
  • If a complex code of colours and colour placement is used, precise identification is lost if any of the colours/colour areas have faded.
  • Excess or slow-drying paint/varnish may stick the spines together in clumps.
  • If paint is allowed to reach the skin it may act as an irritant.
  • It is essential to avoid the face and ears of the animal, to ensure excessive areas are not covered, and to prevent areas of spines being stuck together with the marker.(B254.22.w22, B261)
  • Hedgehogs may become particularly dirty, obscuring marker visibility from a distance.(B254.22.w22)
  • If large numbers of hedgehogs need to be identified patterns of paint marks may become complex.

2) Clipping Spines

  • Anaesthesia is required for accurate clipping initially, due to the mobility of the skin.
  • If the areas clipped are too large the hedgehog may be at increased risk of predation; there is some increase in risk even with small areas.
  • Continuing replacement of spines gradually obscures the clipped patches.
  • In young animals extra spine growth may obscure the mark more quickly.
    (B254.22.w22, B260.3.w3, P17.49.w1)

3) Colour Tubing on spines:

  • Colour coding using combinations of colours and placement on the hedgehog is only useful while enough tubes remain on the hedgehog. The more complex the coding, the sooner (on average) too many spines will be lost to maintain identification. 

4) Ear Tags:

  • Ear tags are not useful for long distance identification; they are only useful if the hedgehog can be examined closely, is re-captured or is found dead.
  • Ear tags must be of the correct size and design and placed correctly in the ear to minimise the risk of injury to the hedgehog:
    • The edges must be smooth and rounded to minimise the risk of chaffing.
    • The tag must fit closely to the ear to minimise the risk that it will catch on vegetation and tear out.

5) Transponders (microchips):

  • Microchips are useful only if the hedgehog can be approached closely as the readers work only at very close range (a few cm).
  • Microchips do sometimes break, in which case the hedgehog can no longer be identified using the chip.
  • Readers for different makes of microchip do not necessarily read the chips of other manufacturers.
  • microchips are relatively expensive.

6) Beta lights / luminous paint:

  • These do not allow differentiation between individuals at a distance if several animals in an area are marked.
  • There is the possibility that the lights may attract predators. (J147.3.w1, P17.49.w1)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers 1) Colour marking spines: Non-toxic fast drying paint or coloured varnish.

2) Clipping Spines: Appropriate sharp scissors or clippers.

3) Colour Tubing on spines: Lengths of tubing and a means of heating the tubes for shrink-fitting them to the spines

4) Ear Tags:

  • Size 1 Monel self-piercing ear tags with black-filled numbers. Available from The National Band & Tag Co., 721 York Street, PO Box 430, Newport KY 41072-0430, USA. Tel: (001) 606 261 2035. (P37.2.w1)
  • Appropriate ear tag applicator.
5) Transponders (microchips): Microchips, applicator and reader.

6) Beta lights / luminous paint: Beta lights or luminous paint. Glue for attaching beta lights.

Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Most means of marking hedgehogs are simple to use and do not require special equipment. 
1) Colour marking spines:
  • Simple to use and does not require special equipment. 

2) Clipping Spines:

  • Simple to use and does not require special equipment. 

3) Colour Tubing on spines:

  • Simple to use and does not require special equipment. 

4) Ear Tags:

  • Requires an appropriate applicator. 
  • Some experience is useful to ensure optimum placement of tags. 
5) Transponders (microchips):
  • Microchips / transponders need a special instrument to be placed in the animal, and a special scanner in order to be detected and read.

6) Beta lights / luminous paint:

  • Simple to use and does not require special equipment. 
Cost/ Availability 1) Colour marking spines:
  • Inexpensive

2) Clipping Spines:

  • Inexpensive

3) Colour Tubing on spines:

  • Inexpensive

4) Ear Tags:

  • Inexpensive.
5) Transponders (microchips):
  • Relatively expensive. Available from veterinary surgeons.

6) Beta lights / luminous paint:

  • Relatively inexpensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Author Debra Bourne (V.w5)
Referee Becki Lawson (V.w26) and Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6)
References B22.5.w2, B228.4.w4, B254.22.w22, B260.3.w3, B261, J147.2.w1, J147.3.w1, P17.49.w1, P37.2.w1, N6.29.w1

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