Thursday, March 17, 2011
Species of the Day: Hedgehogs
Scientific Name: Atelerix albiventrizs
Size: 1/2 to 1 1/4 of a pound; 5 to 8 inches long
Origin: Africa, Europe
Average Life-Span: 4 to 7 years
Temperament: Alert, active and friendly
Most hedgehogs kept in the US are African pygmy hedgehogs. Most African pygmy hedgehogs available are bred by private breeders or you can look up a local hedgehog rescue and adopt your hedgehog. These cute little pincushions are fun and fascinating. If a hedgehog smells something interesting it will often being foaming at the mouth, contorting itself to lick the foam onto its spines. This behavior is referred to as "self-anointing", and to this day science still hasn't figured out exactly why hedgehogs do it. When a hedgehog feels threatened it snuffles and snorts while tucking its head down as a defense mechanism. This leaves them with their quills protecting their whole bodies while still allowing them to move. This behavior is usually accompanied by sudden lurches forward in the direction of their antagonist in an attempt to give it a good warning prickle. Of course the more your hedgehog gets to know you, the less defensive it will become.
You may be lucky enough to acquire a very friendly and outgoing hedgehog that will accept you almost instantly, but not all hedgehogs are so adaptable. Getting your hedgehog to become familiar with you will take some patience. The more time you spend with them, the faster they will get used to you and begin to relax. Hedgehogs have rather poor eyesight so their world is one of smells and sounds, and your hedgehog will learn to identify you by your scent and voice. The best way of doing this is to spend time gently holding your hedgehog to allow it to adjust to you. Picking up a hedgehog is difficult, at least until your hedgehog gets to know your smell. Never wear gloves while handling your hedgehog as it will block your scent and confuse it. The best way to pick up a hedgehog is with one hand at each side of it, then bring your hands gently together to support its body. Never grasp your hedgehog in a way that could result in any of your fingers getting caught in the middle should it decide to roll into a ball. As your hedgehog adjusts to being handled, it will come to you with its quills lying flat, allowing you to pet and play with him.
Hedgehogs are insectivores, and as a result are obligate carnivores like cats, meaning that they need essential nutrients that they can only get by eating a high-protein meat diets. In the wild they snuffle around aggressively as they search for any prey they can overpower, from all kinds of insects to small lizards, frogs and even young mice. In captivity, a high quality cat or kitten food, hedgehog maintenance diets or ferret chow is recommended. Feeding live prey is also recommended, such as crickets, earthworms, meal worms, superworms and the occasional pinky mouse, to give them some exercise, as hedgehogs are prone to obesity in captivity. Small amounts of beta carotene-rich vegetables should also be provided.
A wire cage, aquarium, or plastic kiddie-pool can make great places to house your hedgehog. A heavy food dish and water bottle attached to the side of the habitat should be provided. Hedgehogs like to burrow so proved a couple of places for them to hide in such as small sections of PVC pipe or a little plastic igloo for guinea pigs. Hedgehogs can be taught to use litter boxes, and bedding should consist of hay, aspen shavings or recycled newspaper bedding. Do not use cedar or pine mulch as the oils can harm your pet. An exercise wheel is also highly recommended, and specially made wheels for hedgehogs made of plastic cylinders can be found from a multitude of sources. Hedgehogs are surprisingly energetic, and need lots of opportunities to expend that energy.