Yes, badgers eat hedgehogs. Badgers are the hedgehog’s main predator in the UK and whilst hedgehog numbers are in drastic decline badger numbers have doubled since the 1980s. Early studies have shown that where badgers are culled hedgehog numbers bounce back remarkably. Yet the British Hedgehog Preservation Society is clear that badgers aren’t to blame for the plight of our hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs and Badger Predation
Our hedgehogs face many threats and challenges as they go about their daily lives, but as a rule, being eaten by other animals isn’t top of their list of worries.
Hogs are extremely well protected by their coat of spines. When they are tightly curled, adult hedgehogs present too much of a challenge to be a viable food option for most of our native and domestic animals.
What Animals Prey on Hedgehogs?
Cats pose little threat to adult hedgehogs. Large dogs can and do injure hedgehogs, but generally, one encounter is enough to put a dog off hedgehogs for life. Foxes occasionally attack and injure hedgehogs, and they will eat dead hedgehogs, but they would struggle to kill an adult hog.
Large birds such as Tawny Owls will occasionally predate hedgehogs and magpies have been known to attack hogs and cause injury. Pine Marten, stoats, weasels and otters will also attack hedgehogs, but these species are scarce and generally occupy different habitat, so the chances of them encountering a hedgehog are quite slim.
Badgers, on the other hand, are common in the UK, occupy the same habitat as hedgehogs and are known to regularly kill and eat hogs.
How Do Badgers Kill Hedgehogs?
A spine-covered and tightly curled hedgehog presents a formidable challenge to any animal tempted to eat it.
Most potential predators cannot reach through the spines to the hedgehog’s skin and lack the strength to uncurl a balled-up hog.
The badger has long claws that can reach through the spines to the skin without getting spiked. Once a claw is inserted into the “join” in a balled-up hedgehog – where the head and the feet are, the badger has the strength needed to pull the hedgehog open.
He will then scoop out and eat the soft insides of the hedgehog, leaving the skin and spines like an orange peel.
How Many Hedgehogs Do Badgers Kill and Eat?
We don’t know how many hedgehogs badgers kill and eat. We’ve discussed previously how difficult it is to figure out exactly what wild animals are killing and eating.
With small, nocturnal animals it’s very difficult to observe their feeding patterns.
Scientists study stomach contents, but this is generally only possible on animals that are already dead. This limits sample sizes and may also skew the evidence. Sick or old creatures may have a different diet to the general population.
So we are left with poo analysis. The main drawback here is that poo only contains the parts of a meal that cannot be digested. Beetle exoskeletons in hedgehog poo. and tomato seeds in human poo for example. When badgers eat hedgehogs they stick to the soft, digestible bits, leaving the spines, which would easily show up in their poo, behind.
So it’s almost impossible to make any accurate estimates about how many hedgehogs fall prey to badgers.
Predation or Competition?
Whilst badgers do kill and eat hedgehogs they have been doing this for thousands of years in the UK. Both are native wild animals and have co-existed perfectly happily up until the last few decades. So why should there be a problem now?
Badgers are Booming
Whilst hedgehogs numbers in the UK are in catastrophic decline badgers are booming.
Though they are not an endangered species badgers are offered unique protection under UK law. In 1972 badgers gained some limited legal protection, but the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act made it illegal to harm badgers or interfere with badger setts.
With this protection in place, despite the introduction of licensed badger culls, badger numbers have nearly doubled since the 1980s and are now thought to stand at close to half a million animals.
The nature of the increase in the badger population is very specific and poses particular problems for hedgehogs.
The rise in numbers of badgers has not led to them spreading further afield but more to the growth in the size of family groups and the expansion of setts. This means that there is a greater concentration of badgers in particular areas.
Eating From The Same Menu
Badgers occupy much of the same habitat as hedgehogs and eat a very similar diet. Hugh Warwick explains that hedgehogs and badgers have an Asymmetric Intraguild Predatory Relationship. They are both in competition for the same food, mainly larger invertebrates form the bulk of the badger’s diet. An average badger’s diet can be up to 80% earthworms.
As Pat Morris points out, in his book “Hedgehogs” badgers are roughly 7 times the size of hedgehogs, so will need to eat 7 times and much food. That’s stiff competition.
We know hedgehogs are often simply starving to death due to a decline in their natural food sources. So why aren’t badgers suffering the same fate?
Well, whilst hedgehogs are very much insectivores and like to stick to their protein-rich carnivorous diet, badgers are far more omnivorous and fruit and veg can play a bigger part in their diet.
Whilst industrial farming has devastated our invertebrate population and the hedgehog’s main food source farmers are inadvertently feeding badgers.
Badgers love maize and this is now planted on an industrial scale in the UK. Maize is a great, easy access food source for badgers and allows more juveniles to fatten up quickly and survive their first winter.
And whilst hedgehogs populations all over the country are suffering from lack of food, there is no evidence that hedgehogs in areas with badgers are any more hungry than hogs in badger-free zones.
Too Close For Comfort
Where food is plentiful and habitat is in good condition hedgehogs can happily co-exist alongside badger populations.
There are plenty of videos like this one, showing badger and hedgehog happily sharing the same food and pretty much ignoring one another.
But when food becomes scarce the situation changes and the the hedgehog becomes a prey animal to the badgers predator.
Hedgehogs seem to know when badgers could become a problem. Studies have shown that once a badger population reaches a certain density, hedgehogs will disappear from the area altogether.
As badger numbers increase in farming and pastureland hedgehogs are driven more towards parks and gardens, where badgers are less common and food is more plentiful.
Research has also shown that when they can smell badger hedgehogs don’t like to hang about, spending as much as 97% less time at feeding stations where badger scent is present.
Nowhere To Hide
It may not just be scarcity of food that’s making it more difficult for badgers and hedgehogs to co-exist. Degradation of habitat could have a part to play too.
In traditional farmland, thick hedgerows offered shelter for foraging hedgehogs who might feel threatened by a nearby badger. As our hedgerows have been stripped or allowed to deteriorate there is little cover for hedgehogs in the agricultural landscape. Parks and gardens could offer a safer environment.
Putting Up Barriers
We might wonder whether hedgehogs moving out of the badger-invested rural landscape into the predator free safety of parks and gardens is really a problem – maybe it’s even a good thing?
it isn’t a good thing. Ecologists believe that dense badger populations serve to fragment hedgehog populations in the same way that roads and development can. Hedgehogs avoid travelling through areas with high badger numbers. So hedgehog groups become cut off from one another.
Small, fragmented populations can be more prone to disease and find breeding more difficult. both of which spell trouble for the future of the species and may further contribute to hedgehog decline.
How Can We Help?
The root cause of the threat posed to hedgehogs by badgers is lack of food and habitat for both species.
Whilst we wouldn’t suggest you encourage badgers in your garden when hoglets and young hedgehogs are present, for most of the year, providing food and water for both species, if you have them, can help to ease the pressure. There is a chance that a visiting badger may kill one of your hedgehogs. But if badgers are in the area that may happen anyway. Providing food and water for the badgers means it’s less likely they will feel the need to feed on hedgehog.
Providing a feeding station will help your hedgehogs feed with reduced risk of attack from badgers or any other predators.
Providing hedgehog houses for nesting and hibernation will also help to keep your hedgehogs safe from predators.
And creating a hedgehog and wildlife-friendly garden will help to provide food and habitat for both species and allow them to go about their business in peace.
Badgers and Hedgehogs – It’s Complicated!
Badgers are common and numerous, not an endangered species, and our hedgehog population is in serious decline. But both the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the PTES are clear that culling badgers is not the way to reverse hedgehog decline.
Though badgers certainly kill and eat hedgehogs they’ve been doing this for thousands of years. They are both native wild mammals, key parts of our British wildlife: predator and prey species and just doing what comes naturally.
it’s now becoming clear that the delicate natural balance between hedgehogs and badgers has been upset by us humans.
The future prospects for both species in our rural environment will be improved by increasing the quality and quantity of habitat that supports both species and the creatures they live on.
Thanks for reading! We hope you’ve found this article interesting and useful. Do you have questions or suggestions? We’d love to hear them. Leave us a comment below.