Every animal has predators. Everyone has to eat something. At the risk of going all “Lion King” on you, it’s the circle of life. But what about foxes and hedgehogs? They certainly live in the same kind of habitat. Foxes are carnivores and eat other animals. But do foxes eat hedgehogs? Should you be worried about your local hogs if a fox starts to visit your garden? Let’s look at the evidence.
Do Foxes Eat Hedgehogs?
The short answer is “sometimes”. There is certainly evidence to show that foxes do sometimes eat hedgehogs. But how often it happens, when and how needs some looking in to.
How Can We Know What Foxes Eat?
Getting a clear idea of what a fox, or any wild animal, eats, is not as simple as it might sound.
You can’t just ask them after all.
There are three main ways of telling what a fox eats, and none of them is perfect.
Watching foxes is one way to tell what they are eating.
But it’s not easy. Foxes are secretive and nocturnal. So keeping an eye on them is a challenge.
Legend has it that foxes get up to all sorts of ingenious tricks to try and snack on hedgehogs.
Foxes are said to roll hedgehogs into water. When the hedgehog unrolls to swim, they pounce.
There is also talk of foxes peeing on hedgehogs to get the hog to unroll.
There is no evidence of rolling into water behaviour.
And although it’s quite likely that a fox might pee on a rolled-up hedgehog, this probably wouldn’t make it uncurl.
It’s not very likely that a fox peeing on a hedgehog is even trying to make it uncurl. More likely it’s just doing what a fox (and my dog!) does naturally. Peeing on anything it comes across that looks interesting!
Infra-red trail cameras have made it much easier to get a clear idea of what happens when a hungry fox meets a rolled-up hedgehog.
As you can see, the fox can’t unroll the hog. Foxes have very sensitive paws and snouts. And their claws aren’t long or strong enough to uncurl a rolled-up adult hog.
Looking at the contents of an animal’s stomach might seem like a pretty good way of finding out what it eats.
But there is one major problem: the animal will generally need to be dead for you to do this.
We don’t cull or hunt foxes in the UK any more. So getting hold of specimens to examine is difficult.
Where it is possible to examine the contents of a dead fox’s stomach, the results might not tell us as much as we would like.
If the fox has died of old age or disease, it’s recent diet may not be typical of the diet of a healthy adult fox.
So studies of fox stomach contents are not that common. However, those there are, have found some evidence of hedgehogs.
Before trail cams, looking at poo was the primary method of figuring out what an animal was eating. It’s still popular today.
Fox poo is easy enough to find if you know what to look for. But there’s a problem here too.
The only bits of an animal or plant that you will typically find in poo are the bits that can’t be digested.
With a hedgehog, this might mean spines or bones. But spines and bones are not very tasty. Given how sensitive a fox’s nose and mouth are, can we really see him crunching his way through hedgehog spines?
So even poo may not give us a very accurate picture of what’s going on.
Even so, it’s clear from the analysis of poo and stomach contents that foxes do eat hedgehogs.
Just not very many.
Wildlife Online has a detailed article which shows that hedgehog remains were found in less than 1% of cases, in studies looking at stomach contents and poo.
So How Does the Fox Eat Hedgehogs?
We’ve seen that it’s unlikely that a fox can unroll a curled up adult hedgehog. So how do foxes manage to eat hedgehogs?
The primary source is likely to be scavenging carrion (or already dead hogs). Foxes are excellent scavengers, and sadly dead hedgehogs are not that hard to find.
It’s also possible that a fox would be able to kill a young hog with softer spines and weaker curling muscles.
Foxes are also known to attack hedgehogs at feeding stations occasionally. If a hedgehog runs away rather than curling up immediately, the fox can grab its back leg, which will often lead to amputation.
This sounds dreadful. But hedgehogs seem to heal from this sort of wound remarkable quickly. Trailcam footage shows hogs injured in this way back up and foraging just hours later. And any rescue centre will tell you that a three-legged hog can get along perfectly well in the wild.
So although foxes will eat hedgehogs and may attack them from time to time, they do not pose a severe threat. In fact, in many urban areas, foxes and hedgehogs are observed getting along just fine.
Which Animals Do Eat Hedgehogs?
While many of our small mammals, amphibians and insects are in constant danger of becoming someone else’s dinner, this isn’t the case for the hedgehog.
The only serious predatory threat to the UK hedgehog is the badger. Badgers’ claws are long and strong enough to unroll a curled up hedgehog. It’s the only UK Mammal that can.
Although badgers and hedgehogs favour the same kinds of habitat in the past hedgehogs would avoid areas populated by badgers. There was enough room for everyone.
With habitat for both species shrinking they are being forced together. So there is now evidence that badgers are becoming more of a factor in the decline of the hedgehog.
Tawny Owls and eagles will occasionally take a hedgehog. But it’s a very unusual behaviour.
In gardens, dogs and cats will sometimes attack hedgehogs. Like the fox, they may cause injury, but they are unlikely to kill an adult hedgehog. And all the evidence from hog watchers suggests that they learn how unpleasant the experience is quite quickly and don’t try it too often.
Conclusion: Foxes and Hedgehogs, No Real Threat
We’ve seen that although a fox might attack a hedgehog, he is unlikely to be able to kill it.
Foxes do eat hedgehogs, but they are more often scavenged (eaten when dead already) than hunted.
Foxes do not pose a serious threat to hedgehogs that may be visiting your garden. In urban areas, the two species mostly live peacefully side by side.
So if you’re a hedgehog lover and foxes start to visit your garden, there’s no need to worry. Just enjoy them for the beautiful animals they are.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it useful.
We would love to hear your fox and hedgehog stories. Leave us a comment below.
And for more information on hedgehogs in the UK, please visit our hedgehog library here.