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BEHAVIOUR  - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment ACTIVITY PATTERNS: Hedgehogs are predominantly terrestrial but they can both swim and climb well. It is thought that to descend from a height hedgehogs simply fall, using their spines to cushion the shock of landing. Hedgehogs are also able to dig and may make burrows for hibernation in some areas. They are able to squeeze through surprisingly small gaps when necessary.

SELF-GROOMING: Hedgehogs use their hind claws for grooming and also lick areas of fur. A curious behaviour known as "self-anointing" may be seen when a hedgehog encounters a strong odour. This involves the hedgehog producing copious amounts of frothy saliva which it then distributes over its body. The purpose of this behaviour is still unknown, although many possible explanations have been put forward.

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM: Hedgehogs are basically nocturnal. Hedgehogs may be seen active during daylight when demand for food is increased, for example lactating females and prior to hibernation. With these exceptions hedgehogs found out of their nest during the day are generally ill.

SPEED OF MOVEMENT: Hedgehogs general move at speeds averaging about 3.7 metres per minute (males) or 2.19 metres per minute (females) but may move at speeds of about 30 m per minute for periods of several minutes, while speeds of 60 metres per minute and even 120 metres per minute have been recorded.

NAVIGATION: It is thought that hedgehogs rely mainly on smell and hearing for navigation.

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

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Activity Patterns

Source Information Hedgehogs are predominantly terrestrial but they can both swim and climb well. It is thought that to descend from a height hedgehogs simply fall, using their spines to cushion the shock of landing. Hedgehogs are also able to dig and may make burrows for hibernation in some areas. They are able to squeeze through surprisingly small gaps when necessary.
  • Hedgehogs are a predominantly terrestrial species. (B147)
  • Hedgehogs are able to swim well. (B142, B147, B228.1.w1, B254.18.w18, B258.w4, B260.2.w2, B262.9.w9, J190.31.w1)
    • A hedgehog in one study was found to have crossed a 12 metre-wide stretch of the  River Thames in an area remote from any bridges. (J179.249.w1)
    • Hedgehogs were less numerous on islands in braided rivers in New Zealand than on "mainland" sites; it was not known whether this was due to the water acting as a barrier or other factors (such as reduced availability of cover or prey on the islands). (J190.31.w1)
  • Hedgehogs can climb well over obstacles e.g. wire, walls and wooden fences. (B142, B147, B228.1.w1, B260.2.w2, B262.9.w9, B260.2.w2, J190.31.w1) Reports exist of hedgehogs climbing within drain pipe guttering and hibernating in a thatch roof. (B254.18.w18)
  • Hedgehogs have been reported climbing 4 foot high (1.1 m) wire-netting fences, trees with slightly sloping trunks, and have been found on the tops of walls. (B255.2.w2)
  • It has been reported in the literature that hedgehogs will climb trees or ivy, descending simply by falling; certainly the spines appear to be designed to absorb the impact of such a fall. (J46.210.w2)
  • Hedgehogs can dig with their forequarters and have been reported to make their own burrows for hibernation in areas of their range with cooler ambient temperature. (B228.1.w1, B260.2.w2) However in the UK they do not dig frequently or extensively (B142), when they do it is most often to escape from confined areas or under obstacles. (B254.18.w18, B262.9.w9)
  • A hedgehog has been reported to crawl under a door through a gap only two inches (five centimetres) high and a full-grown, pregnant female was seen entering a walled garden through a thee-inch diameter (7.5 cm) drainpipe. (B255.2.w2)
  • Hedgehogs are able to squeeze through surprisingly small spaces when they lay their spines flush with the fairly loose-fitting skin. However, if the hedgehog erects its spines within a small confined space, it can become impossible for a person to remove it by hand. (B254.18.w18)
  • Based on observations in captivity, sleeping hedgehogs generally lie on one side, slightly curled. (J46.141.w1)

(B142, B147, B228.1.w1, B228.7.w7, B254.18.w18, B255.2.w2, B258.w4, B260.2.w2, B262.9.w9, J46.210.w2, J179.249.w1)

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Self-grooming

Source Information Hedgehogs use their hind claws for grooming and also lick areas of fur. A curious behaviour known as "self-anointing" may be seen when a hedgehog encounters a strong odour. This involves the hedgehog producing copious amounts of frothy saliva which it then distributes over its body. The purpose of this behaviour is still unknown.
  • Hedgehogs groom the body with the long claws on their hind feet. (B228.7.w7)
  • Hedgehogs often scratch their spines during grooming and are seen to lick areas of fur. (B142)
  • Hedgehogs can groom not only the flanks but right to the midline of the back and behind the ears using the claws of a hind foot; the dorsal skin is thrown into folds or corrugations during such grooming. (B255.2.w2) Following grooming the hedgehog may erect the spines and shake vigorously. (B255.2.w2)

Self-Anointing:

  • Self-anointing behaviour in hedgehogs is usually stimulated by contact with a strong olfactory or odour cue. The hedgehog produces large quantities of frothy saliva which is spread by flicking of the tongue, often in mixture with the stimulus material, over the animal's back and flanks. (B228.2.w2, B228.7.w7, B254.12.w12, B255.7.w7, B258.w8, B285.w1)
  • During self-anointing, hedgehogs are seen to adopt extreme postures with their head and neck extended over their backs and their tongue outstretched, to enable them to reach difficult areas. (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. (B255.7.w7). 
  • Self-anointing often appears to be an all consuming and engrossing activity whereby hedgehogs appear to become less alert to their surroundings and may thus be increasingly vulnerable to predation. (B228.7.w7)
  • Stimuli for self-anointing behaviour do not need to be novel as has been postulated. (B228.7.w7)
  • Whilst the reason for self-anointing behaviour remains poorly understood, it involves the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson's organ) and intense olfactory stimulation. (B228.2.w2)
  • Self-anointing behaviour is inconsistent with some individuals repeatedly stimulated when presented with the same cue whilst others do not show the behaviour on repeated exposure to a stimulus. (B228.7.w7)
  • Self-anointing is stimulated in some hedgehogs by astringent substances such as "leather, varnish, cigar butts and toad skin." (B260.2.w2)
  • The substances which have been recorded to stimulate self-anointing behaviour most commonly have acrid or pungent odours, although this finding is not universal; materials include "other hedgehogs, dog urine and faeces, tortoises and toads, fox fur, human sweat, leather and polish, various glues and varnish, insulating tape, enamelled or glazed surfaces, fish , egg, coffee, cream, tar, soot, creosote, tobacco and its smoke or ash, soil, many kinds of plants or their parts, wool, nylon stockings, cotton, newsprint, valerian, perfumes and cosmetics" (B228.7.w7)
  • Self-anointing behaviour can be short-lived consisting of a few spitting actions for distribution of saliva only, but may last for as long as twenty minutes to an hour. The behaviour typically stops abruptly. (B228.7.w7, B254.13.w13, B260.2.w2)
  • Self-anointing behaviour has been observed in hedgehogs of both sexes, at a range of ages (including blind nestlings) and in a variety of social situations (solitary, sexual and non-sexual interactions). (B228.7.w7)
  • Self-anointing has been observed in captivity and rarely in the wild. (B228.7.w7)
  • Self-anointing occurs in both sexes with variable frequency between individuals. (B262.9.w9)
  • A wide variety of hypotheses have been proposed to explain hedgehog self-anointing behaviour, however consensus of opinion is still varied and remains unclear. (B142, B228.7.w7, B254.13.w13, B260.2.w2, B262.9.w9, B285.w1)
  • The principal function of self-anointing behaviour may be to establish a strong personal odour which is a combination of saliva and the stimulating cue. For instance hedgehog saliva may contain a pheromonal cue. (B254.13.w13) The personal odour may play a role in regulation of interactions between hedgehogs in a sexual or non-sexual context, in creation of odour trails within the home range, with mechanisms for conspecific avoidance etc. Distribution of scent over the spines provides a large surface area for odour dispersal. (B228.7.w7, B254.13.w13)
  • It has been hypothesised that self-anointing behaviour may be related to sexual activity and courtship. (B285.w1) However since self-anointing behaviour has been observed outside the breeding season and in non-breeding individuals, the evidence in support of this theory is uncertain. (B228.7.w7)
  • It has been suggested that hedgehogs may use the scent of the substance which stimulated self-anointing to camouflage their scent; acrid or pungent materials may help deter predators. However more recently authors state that this mechanism would be unlikely to be effective. (B228.7.w7)
  • Self-anointing has been hypothesised to function as a method to spread a "mild poison" or irritant in the saliva over the spines to aid in defence. However the evidence in support of this is scant for whilst a few of the substances which stimulate the behaviour may have toxic action (e.g. secretion from toad skin), the majority of substances are harmless. (B228.7.w7, B254.13.w13, B260.2.w2)
  • It has been suggested that self-anointing may help to groom, condition or clean the spines. However the behaviour makes the spines increasingly dirty and no connection with grooming behaviour has been shown. (B228.7.w7, B260.2.w2, B285.w1)
  • Whilst it has been postulated that self-anointing may help with ectoparasite control, no connection between levels of ectoparasite infestation and the behaviour has been shown. (B228.7.w7, B254.13.w13, B260.2.w2)
  • Some authors suggest that self-anointing behaviour may not have a particular function at all. However others have suggested it unlikely that the behaviour is without benefit to the hedgehog since it involves significant energetic investment, it appears to increase the likelihood of their predation and is therefore associated with negative cost in terms of evolution. (B228.7.w7, B254.13.w13)

(B142, B285.w1, B228.2.w2, B228.7.w7, B254.11.w11, B254.12.w12, B254.13.w13, B258.w8, B260.2.w2, B262.9.w9, B285.w1)

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Circadian Rhythm

Source Information Hedgehogs are basically nocturnal. Hedgehogs may be seen active during daylight when demand for food is increased, for example lactating females and prior to hibernation. With these exceptions hedgehogs found out of their nest during the day are generally ill.
  • Hedgehogs are nocturnal species. (B142, B144, B147)
    • Crepuscular activity at dawn and dusk may also be observed. (B142)
  • Hedgehogs are nocturnal as is the general activity pattern for ancestral mammals. The invertebrate prey of the hedgehog are active at night to reduce their visibility and reduce predation; and to avoid sun light and high daytime ambient temperatures that may increase their likelihood of desiccation. (B254.18.w18)
  • Hedgehogs which are active during broad daylight are often found to be sick. (B228.7.w7)
    • However 'healthy' hedgehogs may occasionally be active during the day, for instance following disturbance or if demand for food is increased (e.g. lactation, preparation for hibernation). (B228.6.w6) 
  • Sick hedgehogs may be seen out during the day. (B260.2.w2)
  • Late autumn youngsters may be seen active during the day, in their efforts to gain sufficient food for fat store generation and hibernation. (B260.2.w2)
  • Studies on captive hedgehogs (12 animals recorded for six days each) showed that in spring (late April/early May) in natural daylight and ambient temperatures of 20-22C there was a double-peaked activity curve with the main activity period starting about 2000 hours (8pm), by which time 50% of individuals were active, and maximising at 2100-1230 hrs (9-10.30 pm); the second, lower, activity peak occurred at about 0300 hrs (3am). (J201.79.w1)

(B142, B144, B147, B228.6.w6, B228.7.w7, B254.18.w18, B260.2.w2)

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Speed of Movement

Source Information Hedgehogs general move at speeds averaging about 3.7 metres per minute (males) or 2.19 metres per minute (females) but may move at speeds of about 30 m per minute for periods of several minutes, while speeds of 60 metres per minute and even 120 metres per minute have been recorded.
  • Typical movement rates were a mean of 3.73 metres per minute for males, 2.19 metres per minute for females and 2.17 metres per minute for subadults. (B228.4.w4)
  • Hedgehogs may travel at high speed for bursts of activity. Individuals have on occasion been observed to move at 60 and even 120 metres per minute. (B228.4.w4)
  • Hedgehogs typically travel at an average speed of 100-200 metres per hour (1.6 metres per minute). (B285.w1)
  • Speeds in excess of 30 m per minute were observed for periods of three to 10 minutes and one individual was recorded at about 60 m per minute; it was noted that this was in the absence of any obvious flight stimulus. (P17.49.w1)
  • During high speed locomotion hedgehogs move at an average speed of 30-40 metres per minute (approximately 2 m.p.h.)  and can achieve brief sprints of up to 2 metres per second (60 metres per minute, 6 m.p.h.). (B254.18.w18, B261)

(B228.4.w4, B254.18.w18, B261, B285.w1, P17.49.w1)

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Navigation

Source Information It is thought that hedgehogs rely mainly on smell and hearing for navigation.
  • Hedgehogs are able to navigate and orientate within their habitat which has lead to speculation regarding the mechanism of their long term memory and cognitive mapping system. (B228.2.w2)
  • Navigation is likely to rely principally on olfactory and auditory cues, although visual cues have also been suggested to play a role. (B228.2.w2)
  • Mechanisms for navigation involving detection of magnetic fields and orientation to the moon and stars have been hypothesised. (B228.2.w2)
  • Current evidence does not support the suggestion that hedgehogs use echolocation. (B228.2.w2)

(B228.2.w2)

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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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