As the first hedgehogs emerge from hibernation in March, so do the frogs, toads and newts in our gardens and countryside. Everyone is hungry. So who’s eating what? Do hedgehogs eat frogs and other wildlife that might live in our garden ponds?
Do Hedgehogs Eat Frogs?
The short answer is yes; hedgehogs will eat frogs given the chance. Frogs do form a small part of the hedgehog’s natural diet.
The Hedgehog’s Natural Diet.
Mr Hog is certainly not a fussy eater. He enjoys a wide range of foods and varies his diet according to what’s in season.
The hedgehog is classed as an insectivore, and given the choice, hedgehogs will eat a lot of insects. In an “ideal” environment, beetles and caterpillars might make up the bulk of the hedgehog diet.
But an adult hedgehog needs to eat at least 100 grams of food per night to survive. And with the rise and rise of intensive farming and pesticides, insect life is decreasing at an alarming rate, and it’s becoming ever harder for hedgehogs to fill up on their foods of choice.
Luckily hedgehogs aren’t that picky and if insects aren’t available they will vary their diet. For example, slugs and snails, which traditionally have formed just a small part of the hedgehog diet, can now be a main food in some areas.
Frogs, too, will be eaten from time to time, along with baby birds, eggs, shrews and voles, even fish.
So How Do We Know that Hedgehogs are Eating Frogs?
Hedgehogs are nocturnal; they do most of their eating at night and in the undergrowth. So it’s not easy to watch hedgehogs eating in the wild.
So how do we know that they eat frogs? Well, mostly, it’s down to poo and stomach contents.
Looking at hedgehog poo can give us some clues as to what they are eating. But it tends to only be the harder, less digestible parts of food that show up in poo. So we can quickly tell that hedgehogs eat beetles from looking at poo because bits of beetles hard, shiny exoskeletons show up in the poo. When hedgehogs eat frogs, they almost certainly don’t eat the bones. So hedgehog poo gives us few clues about hedgehogs eating frogs.
Scientists also determine diet by looking at the stomach contents of dead animals. This way, they can see undigested food and get a much better insight into the range of food eaten. Frogs have shown up in many studies hog hedgehog stomach contents.
And although it can be challenging to observe hedgehogs eating in the wild, there are some reports of people seeing them eating frogs and even some film.
Do Hedgehogs Kill Frogs?
Hedgehogs are short-sighted, pretty slow-moving and noisy, and they have relatively weak jaws and claws. This doesn’t make them sound like a lean, mean killing machine.
It has long been assumed that hedgehogs don’t actually hunt and kill frogs and other amphibians, birds and mammals. It was thought that they simply scavenge, opportunistically, feeding on the carcasses of creatures who are already dead. This is certainly the view that Pat Morris takes in his book Hedgehogs.
But there are now just too many eye witness accounts of hedgehogs catching live frogs for us to deny the fact that hedgehogs will kill these creatures for food.
It’s likely that the predation is still very much opportunistic. We don’t have reports of hedgehogs stalking and hunting down frogs. But where they come across an unwary, small, weak or injured frog, it’s clear that they will kill and eat it, given the chance.
What About Frogspawn and Tadpoles?
Only about 15% of the frogspawn produced each year makes it froggy adulthood.
Frogspawn especially makes a highly nutritious meal for many creatures including, birds, foxes, fish, mice and hedgehogs.
Tadpoles can be pretty fast-moving, so they would be a more challenging target for a hedgehog. But there is no reason to suppose that a hedgehog would not eat a tadpole if she happened across one.
And Do Hedgehogs Eat Other Creatures that Live in The Pond?
The pond and pond margins provide plenty of feeding opportunities for hedgehogs.
There are many reports of hedgehogs eating toads, despite their often poisonous skins, which hedgehogs seem to be impervious to.
Hedgehogs have also been know to eat newts from most of the species we have here in the UK.
And hedgehogs have even been observed eating fish.
So What Don’t Hedgehogs Eat?
As we can see, although hedgehogs are strictly speaking insectivores, they really are quite opportunistic in their feeding and will take pretty much anything that’s going.
We know that there are certain foods that we should not offer to hedgehogs at the feeding station, including bread, milk and mealworms. All of these hedgehogs will happily eat but may well get ill afterwards.
There are some foods, on the other hand, that hedgehogs, even with their broad-ranging tastes, will simply not touch.
Although hedgehogs eat insects, they will not eat flies, aphids or woodlice.
They happily munch on caterpillars but turn their snouts up at butterflies and moths.
And According to James Lowen in the RSPB Hedgehog Book, they also eat millipedes but won’t touch centipedes. And this even though millipedes excrete vile tasting chemicals when under threat.
No one knows why they avoid these foods, it’s another hedgehog mystery.
Hedgehogs – No Great Threat to Your Pond Life
So we’ve seen in this article that hedgehogs have expansive tastes in food. They will happily eat (and maybe even kill) a frog, toad or newt. And frogspawn in season is a favourite snack.
But frogs and other pond creatures form only a tiny part of the hedgehog diet. Insects, worms and slugs make up over 75% of what an average UK hedgehog eats.
So though your resident hedgehog may enjoy dining on frogs legs from time to time, he is not a serious predator or a real threat to the population of your garden pond.
Hogs and pond life can live happily together. Which is good news because a pond and the life in it add so much to our gardens.
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