Hedgehogs have some strange behaviours, and along with self-anointing running in circles is high on the list. There are a few theories as to why hedgehogs run in circles, though nobody knows for sure. In this article, we take a closer look at this weird behaviour and what you should do if you see a hedgehog running in circles.
Why do Hedgehogs Run In Circles?
Before we look at the “why?” let’s nail down what this behaviour actually looks like.
Circling hedgehogs are usually – but not always – alone and don’t circle with other hedgehogs. They will most definitely be running with legs extended – and you’ll get a good idea of how fast a hedgehog can actually move when it wants to. We perhaps don’t think of the hedgehogs as especially athletic or active animals, but circling hedgehogs are certainly getting some good exercise!
This size of the circle can vary from small, where people describe the hedgehog as chasing its tail, to much bigger where the hedgehog looks like it’s running laps.
The circling will often go on for hours with the “track” becoming quite well worn. Sometimes the behaviour is even repeated on successive nights.
The circling usually seems to go in the same direction, either clockwise or anticlockwise, and the hog will continue in the same direction if it circles on consecutive nights.
Most hedgehogs who circle appear healthy and will often leave off circling to go and forage for food in the normal way.
A video probably shows it best:
So what’s it all about?
Hedgehogs do circle when they are about to mate and some people mistake running in circles for mating behaviour.
But this is something very different.
In mating behaviour, males and females circle together with the male typically circling around the female. There are plenty of sound effects and the movement tends to be more of a shuffling dance than a run.
When a hedgehog runs in circles they tend to be moving pretty fast, are usually alone and most often silent. So this is not the same thing at all.
Ear infection in humans can as we know lead to inner ear imbalance and a loss of coordination and dizziness.
Rescuers have speculated that ear infections in hedgehogs could cause circling. There’s anecdotal evidence that hedgehogs cured of ear infections have also stopped circling. But again, there hasn’t been enough research to prove or disprove the theory.
Some hedgehogs running in circles may be suffering from ear mites. Our friends at Wildlifeonline shared a report of a hedgehog brought into the Amazing Grace rescue centre.
The hog had been running in circles but x-rays revealed no injuries and there was no sign of infection.
On closer inspection, the hog was found to have an infestation of mites in his ears. Once these were treated the running stopped. So could they have been the cause? Could the hog be running in circles in an attempt to rid himself of the mites? Maybe, but it seems like a strange strategy, even for a hedgehog. Mites are extremely itchy. You would think scratching would be a better way of dealing with them.
There is evidence from a number of rescuers that some circling hedgehogs have been found to be suffering from head injuries. The speculation is that the head injury has led to neurological issues or brain disorder for the hedgehog which results in the circle running.
It sounds like a plausible theory, but again, there hasn’t been enough research to confirm it.
Pat Morris in his book Hedgehogs notes that the first reports of hedgehogs running in circles come in the 1960s there is no mention of the behaviour earlier than that. Even though people have been observing and writing about hedgehogs for at least two thousand years. (Pliny has lots to say about hedgehogs – most of it wrong) It seems odd that such a strange and striking behaviour isn’t documented in our rich hedgehog folklore.
Morris points out that the ‘60s marked the widespread introduction of pesticides into our gardens. He wonders whether some kind of pesticide poisoning could be causing the behaviour.
Although garden chemicals are tested on some animals they’re never tested on hedgehogs. And we know that different animals can react differently to the same substance.
It’s an interesting theory and it sounds plausible. It might seem like just too much of a coincidence that this behaviour is first observed at just the same time that pesticides are introduced into the environment. On the other hand, it is possible that it’s simply a case of no one having noticed the behaviour before the ‘60s.
Frustration or Stress?
There is also speculation as to whether the behaviour is caused by frustration or stress in the hedgehog.
There are plenty of reports of circling hedgehogs in forums from owners of pet African pygmy hedgehogs.
It’s easy to see how a pet hedgehog confined to a cage could become frustrated or bored. But why would our own wild hedgehogs be feeling that way?
Does A Hedgehog Running In Cirlces Need Help?
We may not know what causes circling but as Pat Morris points out, the behaviour looks to be very unnatural for a hedgehog.
Hours spent running in circles also consumes precious energy and takes up valuable time that could be used to forage for food. So the behaviour is almost certainly not doing the hedgehog any good.
And although a circling animal may look otherwise healthy, when they are taken into rescue they are often found to have health problems like head injuries, mites or infections.
So our advice would be that if you see a hedgehog behaving like this it is best to get it checked out by your local rescue centre or vet.
You can find your local rescue centre here.
It’s possible that your vet will now treat wildlife free or for a reduced fee, but it’s worth checking before you go.
Or for more advice contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
Thanks For Reading
Circling was thought to be a rare behaviour. But there are now quite a few videos showing the behaviour, as well as reports of it on the Hedgehog Street forum. I wonder whether the behaviour is becoming more common, or whether it’s just that we’re all paying more attention to our hedgehogs?
We are a long way off understanding the cause of this strange behaviour and there is clearly a need for further research.
But whatever the causes, experts and rescuers are agreed that circling is generally not healthy behaviour for a hedgehog. So if we see it, we can at least help by getting the hog checked out.
Thanks for reading. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it useful. Have you ever seen a hedgehog in your garden running laps? We’d love to hear about it. Or any other questions or suggestions you may have. Leave us a comment below.