Some studies estimate that around 10% of hedgehogs die in ponds and swimming pools. Not because they can’t swim, but because once they are in, they can’t climb out. Then we have reports like this one of a hedgehog climbing to the first floor of a house, jumping into a bed, and biting someone’s toe! So what’s the deal with hedgehogs and climbing? Can hedgehogs climb or not? Let’s take a look.
Can Hedgehogs Climb?
It looks like the answer to the question is “Yes, but . “.
Not an Athletic Build?
The hedgehog looks like a little fat round person, trudging around the place. Not the sort you would imagine scaling cliffs.
But appearances can be deceptive.
Most of the roundness to the hedgehog isn’t body fat. You have long, soft hair underneath, long spines on the top and the side. And under all that a thick, loose, baggy skin.
Under all that, the hedgehog’s body is quite light and slender.
On the other hand, hedgehogs have quite weak claws, which aren’t very sharp. They have four “feet” rather than 2 feet at the back and 2 “hands” at the front, that you see on monkeys and other animals that climb.
And they can’t turn their feet in the way that pine martens or squirrels can.
And of course, they come with a little, stubby tail—no use at all for balancing or holding on to things.
So What Can They Climb?
Rough surfaces and plenty of ledges to hang on to seem to be what a hedgehog needs to be able to climb.
So stairs are no problem.
Stone walls and steps are an easy obstacle course.
(Source: Wicklow Workbook)
They have even been filmed trying to climb trees.
Pat Morris reports hedgehog regularly stealing cat food left out on the top of a garden wall.
He also reports that they can climb wire fencing and scale ivy. There have been reports of hedgehogs found in attics and even nesting on a thatched roof.
Another favourite hedgehog climbing method is what rock climbers call “chimneying”. This is where the hedgehog wedges himself into a narrow vertical gap and uses the sides to push himself up. You can imagine how the spines would help to stop him from falling in this situation.
It’s this method that is thought to lead to hedgehogs ending up at the top of drain pipes or on roofs.
What Goes Up
What goes up must come down. And this is where hedgehogs get into trouble. They seem to manage to climb up things despite not being built for climbing. But when they try to get down their lack of proper equipment becomes a problem.
No “hands” and weak claws mean they can’t grip. They cannot also turn their feet in the way that squirrels and pine martens do. So when the hedgehog tries to climb down, gravity tends to take over and he ends up simply falling.
Why Would You Want To?
We’ve seen that hedgehogs can climb – sort of – if they put their minds to it.
But why would they want to?
This seems to be a mystery. Hedgehogs don’t need to climb for food. And having seen the speed they go at they surely can’t be climbing to escape predators.
It looks like they climb from the same natural curiosity that gets them into all sorts of trouble.
What Hedgehogs Can’t Climb
Hedgehogs can’t climb vertical or slippery surfaces. This is why garden ponds, especially those with hard plastic liners, are such a problem.
Hedgehogs will get in for a drink. They are quite good swimmers They can cross rivers if need be. So being in the water doesn’t alarm them.
But the steep, slippery surface of a pond liner, especially the hard plastic ones, offers no toe-hold of a hedgehog.
They can’t climb out, and so they drown.
Cattle grids present the same problem. The hedgehog wanders across and falls in, then is presented with smooth vertical walls and can’t climb out. Many hedgehogs used to starve to death at the bottom of cattle grids.
Luckily now the fitting of a wildlife ramp is part of the standard specifications for cattle grids. So hedgehogs and other small creatures can escape.
Make Your Pond Hedgehog Safe
Though hedgehogs can do some climbing, it’s clear that one of the things they definitely can’t climb is the steep bank of a man-made pond. Some experts estimate that around 10% of all hedgehog deaths are caused by drowning in ponds and swimming pools.
So be sure your pond is hedgehog safe.
There are several ways of doing this.
Make a beach. If you are planning a new pond, you can build it with wildlife in mind. Create a shallow, gently sloping beach at one end and cover it with pebbles. This way, hedgehogs and any other creatures can easily climb out.
Add some rocks. If your pond has a rigid pond liner, the easiest way to provide an escape route for hedgehogs is to put in some rocks. Add a rock pile at the side of the pond, with the top rock poking out above the surface of the water. This will allow hedgehogs and other creatures to climb out easily.
Provide an escape ramp. Add a ramp to the pond. Either buy a ready-made escape ramp. Or make your own by wrapping some chicken wire around a short plank of wood.
Or a scramble-net. If you are going for a DIY solution the chicken wire on its own can work well, just anchor it under a rock on the edge of the pond and hogs will scramble up it. Remember to fold in any sharp edges.
Provide a life raft. As a last resort, a piece of lightweight wood left floating on the pond will give hogs and any other distressed wildlife something to hang on to when they are too tired to swim. Then you check the pond and rescue them in the morning. If you’re lucky enough to have a swimming pool in the garden, afloat left in the water will do the same job.
Conclusion: Hedgehogs Can Climb Sometimes, But It Can Get Them Into Trouble.
We have seen that the hedgehog does have some climbing ability, but he’s not going to win any mountaineering prizes.
There seems to be no good reason for a hedgehog to climb, but still, they do it. And although they can climb upwards, going back down is much more difficult. Which may be why they are found stuck on roofs, in drainpipes and attics.
Hedgehogs can’t climb sheer or slippery surfaces at all. This is why man-made ponds are such a hazard for them and need to be made safe.
We hope you’ve found this article interesting. If you have questions or hedgehog climbing stories, we would love to hear them.
And if you would like to read more about the wonderful world of hedgehogs head over to our hedgehog library here.