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NATURAL DIET - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment (Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog)

NATURAL DIET:

  • Hedgehogs are omnivorous with the main bulk of the diet being made up of invertebrates including earthworms, slugs, beetles, millipedes, caterpillars and many others.
  • Vertebrates are sometimes taken, including as carrion.
  • Eggs are eaten with some individuals apparently learning how to break into quite large eggs.
  • Plant material including grass, leaves, berries, and other fruits are taken. Some fruit may be eaten deliberately, however vegetable material is probably eaten mainly incidentally, for example stuck to animal food, and is not important in the diet.
  • Diet varies with habitat (and therefore available prey species) and with age.
  • (A detailed list of prey species is available in Literature Reports below)

QUANTITY EATEN:
Food consumption may average about 70 g per day and may be double this in a lactating female.

STUDY METHODS:
Studies of hedgehog diets have used several methods including analysis of faeces, analysis of stomach contents and food preference trials in captive hedgehogs. Pitfall traps may be used to collect invertebrates in order to compare species and quantities present to those consumed by hedgehogs in a given location.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Natural Diet

Source Information SUMMARY:
  • Hedgehogs are omnivorous with the main bulk of the diet being made up of invertebrates including earthworms, slugs, beetles, millipedes, caterpillars and many others. 
  • Vertebrates are sometimes taken, including as carrion. 
  • Eggs are eaten with some individuals apparently learning how to break into quite large eggs. 
  • Plant material including grass, leaves, berries, and other fruits are taken. Some fruit may be eaten deliberately, however vegetable material is probably eaten mainly incidentally, for example stuck to animal food, and is not important in the diet. 
  • Diet varies with habitat (and therefore available prey species) and with age. 

General:

  • Insectivorous diet. (B228.3.w3)
  • The hedgehog diet consists primarily of animal material. (B254.13.w13)
  • Hedgehogs are best described as predatory carnivorous species rather than omnivores since the majority of their diet consists of invertebrates, in addition to small vertebrates and carrion, with only small amounts of plant material eaten. (B228.3.w3, B260.4.w4, B261)
  • Omnivorous, mainly insectivorous, with some vegetable matter in the diet. (B289.3.w3)
  • Insectivore although hedgehogs may be classified as omnivorous as some vegetable matter is eaten. The gut is also longer, as a proportion of body length, than in pure carnivores and the molars are broader than in the other insectivores. The diet includes "practically any living creature that they can catch" but mainly insects (including larvae and pupae) and other invertebrates (snails, worms, wood-lice, spiders, centipedes, millipedes etc). Additionally amphibians (frogs and toads), reptiles (lizards and snakes), also birds, eggs and small mammals, and carrion. Fish are taken readily in captivity. Vegetable matter eaten includes fruit and berries, fungi, acorns and beech mast as well as grass or leaves stuck to other items. (B258.w6)
  • The general picture of the hedgehog diet arising from a number of studies is that hedgehogs will eat any "protein food" which they find. (J207.2.w1)
  • A study in pasture land in New Zealand examining stomachs and droppings found that plant material, mainly grasses, were commonly ingested. The major prey items were "lepidopteran larvae, earwigs, unidentified beetles, spiders, harvestmen, grass grub beetles, slugs and earthworms". (J208.20.w1)
  • Mainly invertebrates available at ground level and particularly "Coleoptera, larvae of Lepidoptera and Diptera, Dermaptera, Diplopoda, Gastropoda, Lumbricidae, Chilopoda, Araneae. (J82.18.w1)
  • Hedgehogs are opportunistic feeders with a catholic diet including a wide variety of prey species. (B228.3.w3)
  • Discussion exists in the literature as to whether hedgehogs feed opportunistically and unselectively or whether their foraging strategy is more selective and operates to maximise energy intake. (B228.3.w3)
  • The proportion of prey items and food types taken by the hedgehog will vary according to season and with habitat type. (B260.4.w4, B261)
  • Evidence for "switching" foraging strategy to focus on seasonally abundant prey items has been documented, for example, peaks of cockchafer availability in May/ June in certain areas (B228.3.w3)
  • Field studies of seasonal variation of hedgehog diet to date suggest peaks of caterpillar intake in "late summer-early autumn", increase in earwig consumption in summer and found that earthworms were taken year round with their availability related to damp environments. (B228.3.w3)
  • A study of the diet of hedgehogs, mainly Erinaceus concolor but possibly also some Erinaceus europaeus, in an urban environment, found that mainly arthropods from the litter on the surface of the soil were taken, with millipedes, earwigs and beetles important year round, while chafers, weevils, ants, aquatic insects attracted to street lights and comatose bees were taken opportunistically. (J131.30.w1)
  • Vegetable matter including fruits, fungi, acorns and berries constitute a relatively small proportion of the natural diet. (B228.3.w3)
  • The diet may change as the hedgehog gets older. A study of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract of 87 hedgehogs showed that as hedgehogs grew older (age classes of year 1 to year 6) they ate more slugs and snails, larvae and carabid beetles but less arachnids and dermapterans. Additionally, juvenile suburban but not rural hedgehogs ate many isopods, eating less of these as they aged. Rural individuals ate more scarabaeid beetles as they got older and less myriapods. The average size of prey taken increased in older animals (in rural hedgehogs from 0.50 g per item at two years old to 1.27 g at five years old and in suburban hedgehogs from 0.72 g per item at two years old to 1.22 g in individuals seven years old). (J46.215.w2)
  • Diet is affected by food availability; the diet of urban hedgehogs may vary from that of rural hedgehogs. A study of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract of 87 hedgehogs showed that suburban hedgehogs ate more fruit, isopods and tipulid larvae than did rural individuals, while the rural animals ate more lepidopteran larvae (caterpillars). (J46.215.w2)
  • In New Zealand, a study examining stomach contents of 10 hedgehogs plus 90 hedgehog droppings found that slugs and millipedes were the main items in the diet of suburban hedgehogs (snails were also eaten frequently). In pasture habitat slugs and moth caterpillars were major items and in a sand dune area (with areas of grass and scrub cover) snails, millipedes and frogs were the main foods eaten. (J207.2.w1)
  • In New Zealand, in addition to consuming a wide variety of invertebrates, remains of eggshells, birds ( feathers or other remains) and skinks or geckos have been found in hedgehog guts and scats. Additionally, hedgehogs have been observed scavenging on carcasses of rabbits and sheep. (J190.31.w1)
  • Studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet identified beetles, caterpillars and earthworms as the most important items contributing 27.9-56.3%, 17.7-30.9% and 7.7-33.9% of percentage dietary energy respectively, in four separate trials. Other prey items amounted to variable small percentages of total energy intake in these surveys. (B228.3.w3)
  • Some items, although apparently preferred and commonly eaten may, due to their small size, represent only a small percentage of the diet in terms of either wet weight or percentage of total energy intake. (J46.141.w2)

Prey items that have been identified within the hedgehog diet include:

INVERTEBRATE

Beetles - Coleoptera:

  • Beetles are usually the most numerous prey species taken by hedgehogs. (B228.3.w3, B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7)
  • Four separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that beetles contributed 27.9 to 56.3% of total dietary energy. (B228.3.w3)
    • Beetles made up 19% of 1,726 prey animals identified and Scarabaeoidea contributed 16.8% of the total weight of prey (beetles overall contributed 27.2%) in a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs. (J180.21.w1)
  • Carabid ground beetles of a medium size are commonly eaten and often in large numbers (B228.3.w3)
  • Studies have identified Pterostichus madidus to be the main carabid beetle prey. (B228.3.w3)
  • A significant proportion of the total energy content (approximately 35%) of carabid beetles is indigestible chitin.(B228.3.w3)
  • Food preference trials showed that stag beetles as large as 40mm long are taken although the jaws and electra are often left uneaten. (J46.141.w2)
  • Scarabaeoid beetles, including chafers and dung beetles, are often taken. (B228.3.w3)
  • Peak intake of cockchafers has been reported to coincide with the insect's seasonal emergence en masse. (J46.141.w1, B228.3.w3)
  • Tenebrionids and weevils are also eaten.(B228.3.w3)
  • Whilst ladybirds may be taken by hedgehogs, they usually constitute a small proportion of the diet at most (B228.3.w3); they were universally rejected as prey items in experimental food preference tests. (J46.141.w2)
  • Carabid beetles were found to be important food items in June but scarabaeoid beetles were important July to October in a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs. (J180.21.w1)
  • Beetles appear to form a less important part of the hedgehog diet in New Zealand. (B228.3.w3)
  • Hedgehogs consume large numbers of ground beetles, despite the fact that they are "supposedly distasteful."(B254.13.w13)
  • Observation of hedgehogs preying upon beetles has shown that the prey is typically grasped by its side or hind quarters, enabling the hedgehog to avoid potential injury from their mouthparts. (B228.3.w3)
  • Grass grub beetles Costelytra zealandia were found to be a relatively important food item for hedgehogs on pasture land in New Zealand in one study. (J208.20.w1)

Caterpillars - Lepidoptera:

  • Caterpillars form an important part of the hedgehog diet. (B228.3.w3, B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7)
  • Four separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that caterpillars contributed 17.7 to 43.1% of total dietary energy.(B228.3.w3)
    • Caterpillars made up 21% of 1,726 prey animals identified and contributed 26% of the total weight of prey in a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs. They were clearly important food items in April. Most were Agrotidae. (J180.21.w1)
  • Whilst hedgehogs do eat adult lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), caterpillars are much more frequently taken and form a larger proportion of the diet.(B228.3.w3)
  • Caterpillars and pupae of noctuid moths are most frequently taken.(B228.3.w3)
  • Porina moths Wiseana cervinta were found to be a relatively important food item for hedgehogs on pasture land in New Zealand in one study. (J208.20.w1)

Earthworms: Annelida - Annelid worms (Phylum-Division)

  • Earthworms form an important part of the hedgehog diet. (B144, B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7, B285.w1)
  • Three separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that earthworms contributed 7.7 to 33.9% of total dietary energy. (B228.3.w3)
    • Earthworms made up an unknown number of prey animals but contributed at least 13% of the total weight of prey in a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs; it was likely that the actual percentage was higher but much partially digested matter could not be positively identified. (J180.21.w1)
  • Lumbricus terrestris is the most commonly consumed earthworm although other species are also taken. (B228.3.w3)
  • Experimental food preference trials showed that many earthworm species would be consumed, including large specimens 30cm long. They were rarely selected to be eaten first. (J46.141.w2)
  • Species which burrow near the surface are probably taken more commonly than those burrowing deeper, as they would be easier to acquire. (B255.3.w3)
  • Methods for estimation and detection of earthworms in the diet vary but tend to rely on identification of chetae. Dirt and grit within hedgehog gastric contents and faecal pellets can also indicate earthworms within the diet consumed.(B228.3.w3)
  • Dietary analyses have suggested that earthworms form an important but variable proportion of the diet. (B228.3.w3)
  • Earthworms may be more important in the diet in summer when dry leaf litter provides less alternative prey such as insects, millipedes and slugs. (B255.3.w3)
  • Observation of hedgehogs feeding on earthworms has shown that they are typically seized by their rear end and are eaten progressing towards the front end. (J46.141.w2, B228.3.w3)

Earwigs - Dermaptera:

  • Earwigs are commonly consumed by hedgehogs and are an important part of the diet.(B228.3.w3, B260.4.w4)
  • Four separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that earwigs contributed 1.5 to 10.5% of total dietary energy.(B228.3.w3)
    • Earwigs (Forficula auricularia - common earwig) made up 13% of 1726 prey animals identified in a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs. (J180.21.w1)
  • Forficula auricularia is the most frequently taken species of earwig taken in the UK and Europe.(B228.3.w3)
  • Hedgehogs in New Zealand take the indigenous species, Anisolabis littorea, in addition to the introduced species Forficula auricularia.(B228.3.w3)

Mollusca - Molluscs (Phylum-Division)

  • Four separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that slugs and snails contributed 1.3 to 5.6 % of total dietary energy.(B228.3.w3)
  • Soft-bodied slugs are more digestible then invertebrate prey with chitinous exoskeletons; they may have a greater importance relative to other food items than data on their importance, in terms of dietary energy, indicate. (B228.3.w3)
  • When feeding on large slugs, individual hedgehogs have been observed to wipe away excess slime on their forepaws before eating their prey. (J46.141.w2, B228.3.w3)
  • The most common reported slug species consumed is the grey field slug, Agriolimax reticulatus although a variety of other species are taken. (J180.21.w1, B228.3.w3)
  • From the results of food preference trials it was hypothesised that the toughness of the skin, rather than purely size, might be responsible for rejection of some of the larger slug species. (J46.141.w2)
  • Slugs are an important hedgehog food stuff. (B260.4.w4)
  • Hedgehogs can eat up to fifty small slugs per night whilst foraging. (B262.7.w7)
  • Typically, hedgehogs take more slugs than snails. (B228.3.w3)
  • Hedgehogs tend to feed on small thin-shelled snails and are not able to eat large thick-shelled species.(B228.3.w3, J46.141.w2)
    • Thick-shelled snails were "tackled only be young, inexperienced hedgehogs" in food preference trials. (J46.141.w2)
  • The proportion of snails within the diet varies significantly with habitat type. Surveys have shown that snails are more frequently taken in some sand dune habitats whilst they are rarely taken from pasture, orchard and native forest areas. (B228.3.w3)
  • Hedgehogs eat only small numbers of snails in their diet (B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7), probably because their jaws are not designed to cope with access to the soft body within the shell. (B254.13.w13)

Diptera - Flies (Order)

  • Adult flies are not believed to be an important part of the hedgehog diet. Studies have suggested that they form a small proportion on a weight basis and may be consumed accidentally. (B228.3.w3)
  • Larvae and pupae form a more important of the diet than adult flies. (B228.3.w3)
  • Three separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that dipteran larvae contributed 2.9 to 7.0 % of total dietary energy. (B228.3.w3)
  • Maggots are presumed to be taken chiefly when hedgehogs are consuming carrion. (J180.21.w1, B228.3.w3)
  • Crane-fly (Tipulidae) larvae and pupae, colloquially known as leatherjackets, are eaten by hedgehogs, particularly in grassland habitats. (B228.3.w3)

Millipedes and Centipedes - Myriapoda:

  • Centipedes (Chilopoda), a rapidly moving prey item which can bite, are not frequently consumed by hedgehogs.(B228.3.w3, B254.13.w13)
  • Millipedes (Diplopoda) are more frequently taken than centipedes but are usually of small body size therefore contributing only minor proportions of the total dietary weight and energy content in studies.(B228.3.w3)
  • Two separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that millipedes contributed 0.3% and 2.2% of total dietary energy respectively.(B228.3.w3)
  • Hedgehogs consume large numbers of millipedes, despite the fact that these invertebrates contain unpleasant tasting chemicals which are meant to reduce their predation.(B254.13.w13, B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7)
  • Field studies have documented some variation in the importance of millipedes in the hedgehog diet.(B228.3.w3)
  • Millipedes made up 10% of identifiable prey items in a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs. (J180.21.w1)
  •  Experimental food preference trials found millipedes to be a preferred prey item, the author hypothesising that hedgehogs may be attracted to their odour, which was described as "cyanide like". It was noted that these would be common in spring and autumn but not during a dry summer. (J46.141.w2)

Crustacea - Crustaceans and Pentastomes (Phylum-Division) 

  • Woodlice are not eaten by hedgehogs in large numbers (B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7) and have been refused or eaten last by captive animals in food preference tests indicating that they may be unpalatable. (J46.141.w2, B228.3.w3)
  • Three separate studies of the nutritional content of the hedgehog diet found that woodlice contributed 0.1 to 1.1 % of total dietary energy. (B228.3.w3)
  • Woodlice of the genera Oniscus and Armadillidium are taken in the UK and in Europe but are not an important prey item. (B228.3.w3)
  • It is unclear why hedgehogs do not eat more woodlice prey since they are particularly common and do not seem to be unpalatable, and since they are readily consumed by other mammalian predators e.g. Soricidae. It has been suggested that hedgehog's dentition may not be well adapted to picking up woodlice prey. (B254.13.w13)

Bees, Wasps and Ants - Hymenoptera:

  • Dietary studies have identified hymenoptera as occasional prey items. (B228.3.w3)
  • Observations have noted that bees eaten are most frequently taken when they are dead or in a comatose condition. However hedgehogs have been witnessed attacking and consuming live bees and raiding bumblebee nests (Genus Bombus spp.). (B228.3.w3)
    • In a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs two stomachs each contained several bees and cocoons indicating that the hedgehogs had raided nests. Other hedgehog stomachs contained single bees, suggesting that comatose individual bees had been found and eaten. (J180.21.w1)
  • Ants have been shown to be eaten by hedgehogs in small numbers only and it is thought that they may be consumed accidentally. (J180.21.w1, B228.3.w3)
  • Bee stings appear not to discomfort hedgehogs: one individual was reported to have been stung 52 times without showing any obvious discomfort. (B255.3.w3)

Spiders and Mites Arachnida - Arachnids (Class)

  • Arachnid species are often found within hedgehog diets but are typically small in body size and constitute a small proportion of the diet. (B228.3.w3)
    • Remains of spiders (a single spider in each case) were found in 24/177 hedgehog stomachs in a British survey. (J180.21.w1)
  • Harvestmen (Opiliones) may be taken. (B228.3.w3)
  • Mites were found rarely in 177 hedgehog stomachs in a British survey. (J180.21.w1)

Bugs Hemiptera: Hemiptera - True bugs (Order)

  • Aphids (Homoptera) are infrequent hedgehog prey items. (B228.3.w3)
  • Food preference tests have shown that hedgehogs commonly reject aphid prey. (B228.3.w3)

Grasshoppers and Crickets Orthoptera

  • Dietary studies have shown Orthoptera to be occasional hedgehog prey items with seasonal variation in consumption in some areas. (B228.3.w3)
  • Grasshoppers are infrequent food items for hedgehogs, perhaps because they are difficult to catch since they move and leap so quickly. (B254.13.w13)

Other invertebrates:

  • Other invertebrate prey from a wide range and variety of taxa have been reported as part of the natural hedgehog diet in small numbers e.g. thrips, mites, fleas and mussels. (J46.141.w2, B228.3.w3)
  • Ixodes hexagonus ticks were eaten if offered when engorged in food preference trials. (J46.141.w2)
  • Isopoda (woodlice) were found only very rarely: three individual woodlice in a total of 1726 identifiable prey items from 177 hedgehog stomachs in a British survey. (J180.21.w1)
    • Woodlouse acceptance by hedgehogs in food preference trials was rather low. (J46.141.w2)

Vertebrate Prey: Craniata - Vertebrates (Phylum-Division)

  • Discrimination between active predation and feeding on carrion requires observational evidence which is only available in a few instances. (B228.3.w3)
    • Some authors state that most vertebrate prey, other than bird chicks, is likely to be taken as carrion.(B285.w1)

Mammalia - Mammals (Class)

  • Rodent and lagomorph fur have been identified in gastric content studies. (B228.3.w3)
  • Remains of mice (Apodemus - (Genus)), shrew (Neomys - (Genus) or (Sorex - (Genus) - (Genus)), mole (Talpa - (Genus)) and vole (Microtus - (Genus)) have been reported within hedgehog stomach contents in at least one survey. (B228.3.w3, B285.w1)
  • Apodemus sp., shrew, mole, lagomorph and unidentified rodent remains were found during a survey of 177 hedgehog stomachs in Britain. (J180.21.w1)
  • Records have been made in at least two separate studies of hedgehogs which had apparently eaten hedgehog carrion. (J180.21.w1)
  • Mice and vole species are thought to be eaten quite often and nestlings are taken most frequently. Adults may be taken alive if their escape is prevented within a restricted area and the hedgehog has them cornered, or alternatively as carrion.(B254.13.w13)
  • Shrews and moles are eaten by hedgehogs despite their unpalatable skin glands. (B254.13.w13)
  • Rabbits are likely to be taken as carrion most frequently but observations hedgehogs have been observe actively chasing and killing baby rabbits.(B254.13.w13, B260.4.w4)
  • At least two hedgehogs were observed feeding on rabbit carcasses during a release study. (J147.2.w1)
  • Considerable folklore suggests that hedgehogs deliberately suckle milk from cows and may thereby reduce milk yield. (B228.3.w3, B255.7.w7, B258.w6)
    • Hedgehogs are unlikely to be able to take the teat into their mouth and suckle effectively. (B228.3.w3, B258.w6)
    • It is possible that hedgehogs may lick drops of milk from the udders of cows which are lying down. (B258.w6)
    • Hedgehogs have been reported to damage the teat of a cow, possibly in trying to eat it (rather than suckle from it. (B228.3.w3)

Aves - Birds (Class)

  • Remnants of birds eggs have been reported in hedgehog gastric contents. (B228.3.w3)
  • Bird remnants and bird egg remnants were found in a few stomachs during a survey of 177 hedgehog stomachs in Britain. (J180.21.w1)
  • Hedgehogs predate the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds including gulls, terns (Laridae - Skuas, Terns, Gulls, Puffins, Auks (Family), game birds (pheasants and partridges (Phasianidae - Grouse, Turkeys, Pheasants, Partridges, etc. (Family))) , pipits (Anthus (Genus)) and skylarks (Alauda (Genus)). (B254.13.w13, B254.29.w29, B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7) This has lead to persecution of the hedgehog by gamekeepers to protect managed game bird populations. (B228.3.w3). However studies have suggested that their absolute impact may be small, being responsible for only 2-3% of lost clutches in one survey. (B254.13.w13, B260.4.w4) Losses due to crows, foxes and agricultural machinery have far exceeded losses attributable to hedgehogs in a number of surveys. (J180.21.w1, B228.3.w3, B260.4.w4)
    • Losses from hedgehogs on estates were only about 1.3%, compared with e.g. 33.8% ascribed to foxes. (J46.1935.w1)
  • Hedgehogs will take small numbers of chicks of ground nesting birds (B142, B262.7.w7) and bird eggs.(B142)
  • Hedgehogs may be important as a predator on ground-nesting birds in some circumstances. (J182.38.w1, B228.3.w3)
  • Observational data suggest that jaw size may limit the hedgehog's ability to feed on large bird eggs unless they are cracked or broken. However reports of hedgehogs developing specialised techniques for opening egg shells exist. (B228.3.w3, B258.w6, J46.121.w1, B255.3.w3)
  • Hedgehogs will generally eat eggs if they are already cracked or sufficiently small. Whole eggs left in cages with hedgehogs often remain untouched but it appears some hedgehogs may learn (perhaps accidentally) to open larger eggs and then become "an egg-addict". (B255.3.w3)
  • Anecdotal observations of hedgehogs taking birds report that the prey is typically restrained by the hedgehog's body and forequarters and is eaten from its rump towards the head, with a variable amount of the bird being eaten. (B228.3.w3, B255.3.w3)
  • Individual reports show that hedgehogs may attack quite large avian species. (B228.3.w3, B255.3.w3)
  • Altricial nestlings (e.g. larks) may be more vulnerable to predation by hedgehogs for a longer period than precocial species (e.g. pheasant). (B228.3.w3)
  • Further research is required using detailed field signs to elucidate the relative importance of hedgehogs as predators on bird eggs and chicks and their potential impact on avian populations.(B228.3.w3)
  • The introduced hedgehog population on the island of North Ronaldsay has been implicated in the poor breeding success of certain ground nesting species (Sterna paradisaea - Arctic tern, Charadrius hiaticula - Common ringed plover). Multi-factorial causation for the decline in bird populations is likely and the relative importance of hedgehog predation is unclear but "may not have been negligible". (B228.3.w3)
  • The potential threat to the populations of breeding waders from hedgehogs introduced to the islands of North and South Uist and Benbecula, Outer Hebrides, are of current concern. (B228.3.w3)
    • Hedgehogs introduced onto South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, have been calculated to predate as many as 60% of the nests of some waders (Charadrii) in machair habitat. It was noted that the eggs did not form an important percentage of the diet of hedgehogs (only 0.7-5.5% of the dietary energy needs), therefore abundance of hedgehogs was unlikely to decrease as wader populations declined. It was considered likely that without action ebbing taken hedgehogs would cause local extinctions of (internationally important) wader populations. (J17.93.w1)
    • Fencing to prevent egg predation by hedgehogs resulted in nest success 2.4 times greater than in areas outside the fencing for waders (Charadridae) on South Uist in the Western Isles, Scotland. (J182.38.w1)
  • In New Zealand recent studies have indicated that hedgehogs may kill significant numbers of ground-nesting birds and be responsible for considerable egg predation at some sites. At one site eradication of hedgehogs in combination with control of other mammalian predators produced a three-fold increase in the number of eggs of ground-nesting birds producing fledglings. (J190.31.w1)

Reptilia - Reptiles (Class)

  • Reports of detection of lacertid lizards (Lacertidae - Fringe-fingered lizard (Family)) and lizard scales within hedgehog faeces (Erinaceus concolor) are present in the literature. (B228.3.w3)
  • Lizards are more likely to be eaten as carrion than hunted live by hedgehogs. (B260.4.w4)
  • Lizards are reported to be eaten alive. (B255.3.w3)
  • The vertebrate material taken within the hedgehog diet includes occasional lizards and frogs. (B254.13.w13)
  • Whilst hedgehogs do prey on snakes they do not form a significant part of their diet. Snakes are likely to be injured on the sharp tip of the spines during a physical encounter. (B260.4.w4)
  • Spines provide good protection against striking snakes since they are sufficiently long to obstruct access to the hedgehog skin making puncture and injection of venom difficult. (B142, B254.33.w33, B260.4.w4) Some authors suggest that this adaptation to help avoid the snake's bite has lead to the folklore that hedgehogs are resistant to the effects of the venom itself. (B254.33.w33) Hedgehogs are likely to curl up if being attacked by a snake and can therefore impale their spines into the snake, injuring it and perhaps making it more likely to be eaten by the hedgehog. (B254.33.w33)
  • Observation of hedgehogs preying on snakes report that the prey will repeatedly strike at the predator until it becomes exhausted and has effectively depleted its stores of venom. The hedgehog restrains the snake and chews on the body until it has severed the vertebral column. (B228.3.w3)
  • Hedgehogs appear to have some adaptation which confers a degree of immunity to adder venom. (B260.4.w4) However this resistance is not absolute and hedgehogs bitten on areas of haired skin may become ill or die within a few hours. (B254.33.w33)
    • Historical experiments have suggested that hedgehogs may be 35-40 times more resistant to the effects of adder venom than mice and guinea pigs of similar body size. (B228.3.w3)
    • Macroglobulin proteinase inhibitors within hedgehog blood have been shown to inhibit the haemorrhagic action of venom. (B142, B228.3.w3)
  • The extent to which hedgehogs are resistant to adder venom appears to be individually variable. Reports of hedgehogs following adder bite have shown no discernible effect, localised swelling only, or fatality (preceded by marked thirst and fasting). (B228.3.w3)
  • It has been suggested that hedgehogs tend to take fewer grass snakes (Natrix natrix - Grass snake) than adders (Vipera berus - Common viper) in the UK because of the foul scent which is produced by tail glands in the former species. (B228.3.w3)

Amphibia - Amphibians (Class)

  • Predation on frogs (Hyla aurea) has been observed in New Zealand. (B228.3.w3)
  • Frogs are more likely to be eaten as carrion than hunted live by hedgehogs. (B260.4.w4)
  • The vertebrate material taken within the hedgehog diet includes occasional lizards and frogs. (B254.13.w13)
  • Frogs are reported to be eaten alive. (B255.3.w3)

Plant material (Plantae - Plants (Kingdom)):

  • "Leaves and seeds of grass and other plants, moss, conifer needles, bark scraps, fibrous roots, straw, apples and a wide variety of other fruit" have been reported within the hedgehog diet. (B228.3.w3)
  • Evidence to date does not suggest that hedgehogs digest vegetable matter within their diet. (B228.3.w3)
  • It is believed that hedgehogs tend to consume vegetable material accidentally rather than deliberately, for example plant material within the gastro-intestinal tracts of their vertebrate prey or that taken within the same mouthful as invertebrate prey. (B228.3.w3)
  • However, exceptional reports which may indicate deliberate consumption of plant material by hedgehogs (in some instances with a seasonal bias) are reported in the literature. (B228.3.w3)
  • Small amounts of plant material (e.g. leaves, grass) are often swallowed along with other prey items. (B254.13.w13)
  • A hedgehog has been recorded, during self-anointing, incidentally pressing itself against crab apples, which thus became impaled on the spines and remained attached. Such an occurrence may explain the often repeated story that hedgehogs roll in apples and then carry them away. [The hedgehog was deliberately placed among the crab apples and provided with an appropriate object to encourage it to self-anoint, in order to see whether it was possible for such an event to occur]. (B255.7.w7). 

(B142, B144, B228.3.w3, B254.13.w13, B254.29.w29, B254.33.w33, B255.3.w3, B260.4.w4, B262.7.w7, B285.w1, B289.3.w3, J46.141.w2, J180.21.w1, P35.3.w5)

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Quantity Eaten

Source Information SUMMARY: Food consumption may average about 70 g per day and may be double this in a lactating female.
  • The average food intake overnight by mass in a survey was 70 g. (B142)
  • Food consumption per day has been calculated in various studies as 71 g per day and about 100 g per day, while 57 g per day has been suggested for feeding hedgehogs in the laboratory. The maximum weight of stomach contents found in a British study analysing the stomach contents of 177 hedgehogs was 32 g; most contained less than 5 g of food, with only 18/177 containing more than 10 g. The rate of digestion of food must therefore be high. (J180.21.w1)
  • Hedgehogs are thought to consume between 57 and 71 g of food per night. (B228.3.w3)
  • Overnight food consumption of 144 g of solid food plus 85 g of milk has been recorded in a lactating female. A male offered mealworms ad libitum ate 1880 g in ten days resulting in a weight gain of 466 g (689 g increased to 1155 g); thereafter offered a diet of sparrows the same animal ate 1462 g in ten days and lost 63.5 g weight. (B258.w6)

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Dietary Study Methods

Source Information SUMMARY: Studies of hedgehog diets have used several methods including analysis of faeces, analysis of stomach contents and food preference trials in captive hedgehogs. Pitfall traps may be used to collect invertebrates in order to compare species and quantities present to those consumed by hedgehogs in a given location.
  • Determination of the hedgehogs natural diet relies primarily on the examination of gut contents post mortem or faecal pellets. Study of indigestible body parts in this material, chiefly invertebrate exoskeletons with high chitin content, permits identification of the prey. Results may be skewed towards invertebrates with an indigestible skeleton as opposed to soft-bodied species. However, careful detection of certain anatomical features allows discrimination of prey species without an exoskeleton e.g. chetae or gizzard-rings from earthworms, shells and radulae from slugs and snails. (B228.3.w3)
  • Vertebrate prey taken can be identified by examination of fur, feather and scales within gastric contents or faecal pellets. (B228.3.w3)
  • The most simple type of dietary analysis combines the presence or absence of a prey species type within gastric contents and faeces with an indication of the proportion of the surveyed hedgehog population found to take that item. (B228.3.w3)
  • Combination of data from total counts of prey species within hedgehog gut contents or faeces with nutritional analyses of the prey items can be used to compile estimates of total nutritional intake. (B228.3.w3)
  • Dietary studies of hedgehogs to date have significant variation in methodology, habitat type and season surveyed. (B228.3.w3)
  • Determination of food preferences has also been carried out by observation of the acceptance, and order of consumption, of a variety of invertebrates offered to captive hedgehogs in a series of tests. (J46.141.w2)
    • Slugs, snails, worms, millipedes, woodlice, centipedes, beetles (carabidae and other groups), aphids, crane-fly larvae and Ixodes hexagonus ticks were all offered. (J46.141.w2)
    • Prey items which were dead or moribund were rejected (not eaten). (J46.141.w2)
  • Pitfall traps can be used to identify the invertebrate prey species present in areas which have been found to be preferential hedgehog habitat. (P35.3.w5)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Becki Lawson (V.w26); Debra Bourne (V.w5)
Referee Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6); Nigel Reeve (V.w57)

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