Is that a Harry or a Hermione hedgehog you have snuffling around your garden? How can you know? You may think you can tell what sex a hedgehog is from the size, or the colouring, or the way he’s moving around or behaving. But truth be told there’s only one way to be sure. So this week we’re taking a closer look.
How Not to Sex a Hedgehog
There are quite a few ways that people think they can tell the difference between male and female hedgehogs. Most of which turn out not to be very reliable at all.
Male hedgehogs are sometimes larger than females. But only sometimes. A juvenile male will often be smaller than a mature female. And some females do become very large naturally. So it’s unwise to assume that the bigger hog in your garden is the male.
It used to be said that female hedgehogs had lighter coloured fur and longer, shaper spines. Colouring does certainly vary between hogs. But gender doesn’t seem to be much of a factor in this. The age might be more relevant with young hogs, who still have some white spines, appearing paler in colour.
It’s often said that the males are the more aggressive and purposeful hogs. The hog that is striding purposefully up to the feeding station, and barging others out of the way must be the male, right? Well, again, sometimes this might be the case but not always.
Male hogs do tend to be more aggressive. But females too can be pretty feisty in defence of a nest, or hoglets, or warding off the attention of an unwanted male.
And when it comes to the “purposeful” behaviour that often makes us think we are looking at a male hog, this isn’t a good indicator of gender at all. Females, especially during the nesting season, can be very busy and important indeed.
So once again, whilst attitude could give you clues as to who’s who, it’s not a sure-fire test.
Caught in the Act
If you see hedgehogs mating, this can be a better way of deciding which is which.
The male will be the one running round in circles, chasing the female, who will be making huffing noises and often giving the male the cold shoulder.
Once things progress, the male will be the one on top.
All good and well. But since hedgehogs are nocturnal and generally mate in the dark, we quite often don’t see them in the act. We more often hear them at it.
And the sound of marketing hedgehogs is often pretty similar to the sound of fighting hedgehogs. In fact, even the courtship “dance” can sometimes look a lot like a fight.
So once again, this isn’t the best way to tell Mr from Mrs.
The Right Way to Sex a Hedgehog
There is only one foolproof way to sex a hedgehog, and that is to take a look at its equipment.
But looking is the tricky bit. Hedgehogs aren’t keen on exposing themselves to strangers. So before you can determine the sex of your prickly visitor, you first need to get it out of its protective ball.
Pat Morris, in his book Hedgehogs, suggests you do this by a kind of hedgehog whispering. Cup the hedgehog in the palms of your hands, feet downward, with one hand towards the head end of the one, one towards the tail. Gently jiggle the hedgehog so that it uncurls its feet to steady itself and places them on your hands.
Keep jiggling gently and slowly move your hands apart, so the hedgehog’s front feet gradually move further away from the back, and it slowly opens out. Then gently lift the head end, pressing the back of the hog against your own stomach, and you will have a view its bits.
I am a great fan of Pat Morris, but even he says that if you get this wrong, you will end up with the hedgehog balling up around your fingers – painful.
The other option – recommended by Hedgehog Bottom Rescue and Little Silver Hedgehog is to put the hog in a transparent glass/pyrex dish, wait for it to relax then take a peek underneath, Much easier and safer I think!
So What Am I Looking For?
Well, you’re not looking for testicles. The hedgehog is ascrotal – literally doesn’t have a scrotum, its testes never descend and remain safely tucked inside its abdomen for its whole life.
You’re looking for a penile sheath. This will look very much like a sticky-out belly button and will appear about where you would expect to see a belly button, around halfway up the hedgehog’s belly, about 2 inches from its anus at the base of its tail.
The female’s vulva tends to stick out too, but you will find this right by the anus, at the base of the tail, no more than half a centimetre between the 2 holes.
So if you have managed to look at your hedgehog’s underside,and there is nothing to see in the middle of the belly, then you have a female.
So sexing your hedgehog is pretty easy when you know what to look for.
Except For Little Ones.
As hedgehogs aren’t sexually mature until their second year, there wouldn’t be much reason to want to sex hoglets. But if you do, it’s much more difficult.
This is because hedgehogs have a migrating penis (this is definitely my fascinating fact of the week!).
The penile sheath on males starts life in very much the same position as the vulva on females, quite close to the anus. Then as the boar becomes more mature, it moves or migrates to its final position halfway up the belly.
So, deciding on hoglet gender is nigh on impossible, but probably rarely necessary anyway.
Sexing Hedgehog – It’s Easy When You Know How
So if you really want to know whether your prickly visitor is a Fred or a Freda you should be able to find out.
Remember, however curious you are, never disturb a nesting hedgehog, either hibernating or breeding.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it interesting. If you have questions or your own tips and stories on sexing hedgehogs we would love to hear them Leave us a comment below.