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SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR - Editorial Comment

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

Both male and female hedgehogs show promiscuous courtship behaviour with no observed pair bonding. Courtship rituals are prolonged with the boar circling the sow while she erects her spines, snorts and even butts his flank. Quite commonly courtship behaviour does not lead to mating. When copulation occurs the sow crouches, raising the tail region and sometimes raising the forequarters (lordosis). The boar mounts from behind.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

Further information on reproduction is provided in West European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus - Life Stages (Literature Reports) Erinaceus europaeus - Life Stages (Literature Reports)

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Sexual Behaviour

Source Information
  • Hedgehogs, both males and females, show promiscuous courtship. In one study involving 27 males and 20 females observed courting, courtship with at least two partners was observed for 15 males and 12 females, including one female observed with at least 10 males and two males with at least eight females. Repeated courtship between particular pairs of animals was also recorded. It was noted that many courtships do not result in successful mating, which may indicate some type of selection. (J46.210.w1)
  • No pair bonds form between hedgehog sows and boars. (B254.14.w14, B262.10.w10)
  • Sows and boars mate " frequently and apparently at random." (B262.10.w10)
  • Hedgehogs show promiscuous courtship behaviour (B142, B254.14.w14); however it is not known whether actual copulations from different boars occur naturally in each oestrus cycle. (B228.8.w8)
  • Promiscuous mating behaviour where both sexes may have several partners per breeding season. (B142, B285.w1)
  • Boars do not guard the sow following copulation to prevent further mating as occurs in some other species. (B228.8.w8)
  • Scent-marking has been described during courtship behaviour where white-coloured secretions from the penis, believed to originate from the accessory sex glands, were used to scent the ground. (B228.2.w2, B228.8.w8)
  • It is thought that the boar may be attracted to odour cues from vaginal secretions produced by sows in oestrus. (B228.8.w8)
  • Characteristic courtship (pre-mating) behaviour occurs in early summer. The female is repeatedly circled by the male. Either or both of the pair make "loud snorting noises" during courtship. (J46.210.w1, B260.2.w2)
  • Hedgehog courtship rituals are prolonged during which the boar and sow circle one another. (B262.10.w10)
  • Prolonged courtship activity may facilitate mate selection by the sow allowing her to distinguish between males of varying 'fitness'. (B228.8.w8)
  • During courtship the male continually circles the sow who repeatedly attempts to rebuff her suitor, facing him with her flank. (B254.14.w14, B255.4.w4, B261)
  • The noise associated with courtship may attract other boars to the vicinity; physical conflict between the males may arise with "head-butting and banging each other about". (B254.14.w14, B261)
  • Competition between males to mate a female may occur and can result in physical combat. (B228.8.w8)
  • The majority of noise during courtship originates from the sow although the boar may snort too. (B254.14.w14)
  • When the boar approaches the sow in courtship, her initial reaction is to react aggressively, erecting and bristling her spines and making loud, rapid and frequent snorting noises (<3 per second), sometimes for a prolonged period. (B228.8.w8, B285.w1)
  • Reports in the literature differ as to which of the sexes typically make the snorting noise during courtship. However the male is usually virtually silent at this time and it is the female which makes the noise. (B228.8.w8)
  • Courtship progresses with the boar herding or circling the sow. Whilst the sow may attempt to escape at first, she will then stand and face the male, continually making snorting noises and then butting his flank with her spines erected with some force. (B228.8.w8)
  • The boar continues to pursue the sow, repeatedly attempting to mount her although she may persistently reject his advances. Indeed a high proportion of observed courtship sequences are not seen to culminate in mating (under 7% of courtship observations in the field). (B228.8.w8, B255.4.w4)
  • Hedgehogs adopt a rear-mounting posture during copulation. There is no evidence to support ancient reports from Aristotle that hedgehogs mate facing belly-to-belly. (B228.8.w8, B285.w1, B258.w7)
  • During copulation the sow typically crouches close to the ground with her undercarriage in a flattened position, elevates her tail base to increase exposure of the external genitalia and may raise her forequarters and neck in a lordosis posture. (B228.8.w8, B254.14.w14, B261, B262.10.w10)
  • The boar mounts the sow from the rear and remains in position by holding onto the spines over her shoulders with his teeth. (B228.8.w8, B254.14.w14, B285.w1)
  • The boar must arch his spine markedly to achieve intromission. (B254.14.w14)
  • Whilst some reports suggest that the female may flatten her spines during copulation to prevent injury to the haired underside of the boar, observations suggest that the spines remain erect during the act. (B228.8.w8)
  • The hedgehog sow must flatten her spines to permit copulation; she is able to dislodge the mounted male by erecting her spines or throwing her partner off. (B254.14.w14)
  • Duration of observed mating in the literature varies; mounting for 3-4 minutes with three copulations in one instance, mounting for 20 minutes with six copulations in another individual. (B228.8.w8)
  • Single copulations have been reported to last between 1-3 minutes consisting of 10-11 "rapid thrusts". (B228.8.w8)

(B142, B228.8.w8, B254.14.w14, B261, B260.2.w2, B262.10.w10, B285.w1, J46.210.w1)

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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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