Why Are Hedgehogs Important? 6 Good Reasons Why Hedgehogs Are Special

Of course, every creature on the planet is special (yes, even slugs!) and deserves the right to live out its life as nature intended. Hedgehogs are in decline and need our help. But lots of other wildlife is in the same situation. So why do the hedgehogs in our gardens get so much attention? Why are hedgehogs important? Here are just a few good reasons.

1. Hedgehogs are Extremely Ancient

Hedgehogs have been around for over 15 million years. They were evolved to pretty much their current state before the woolly mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger walked the earth. 

How do we know the modern hedgehog evolved so long ago? Well, hedgehog skeletons bear a strong resemblance to prehistoric creatures, particularly in the skull and teeth. And hedgehogs dominant sense is their sense of smell, which was common in ancient creatures, with sight tending to dominate in creatures that have evolved more recently. 

We can learn far from living hedgehogs than from creatures that now only exist as fossils.

Whilst it would certainly be sad to see an animal that has got on well for all those millions of years wiped out in a few decades on our watch there is more to it than that. 

Because they have remained unchanged for so many millions of years hedgehogs are living history. They exhibit features that have evolved out of more “modern mammals – their hearing is just one example of this. 

One of the most important thighs about our hedgehogs is that they are an indicator species. They act as a barometer for the health of our local environment.  Click To Tweet

Hedgehogs could be holding all sorts of information about evolution that simply can’t be gathered from creatures that now exist only as fossils. 

2. Uniquely Prickly

Hedgehogs are the UK’s only spiny mammal. It’s a unique defence mechanism. Whilst other creatures have developed camouflage, or the ability to run from predators or teeth and claws to fight back the hedgehog relies on her prickly coat of over 5000 spines to keep her safe. 

Those spines have done a pretty good job for millions of years. The only UK animal able to tackle a healthy adult hedgehog is that badger. Sadly though spines are no defence against a moving car or strimmer. 

But a hedgehog’s spines don’t just offer protection from predators. They have some other useful functions too: buoyancy aids and shock absorbers are just two

3. Hibernation Fascination

Hedgehogs are one of just three animals in the UK that hibernate. The other two being dormice and bats. 

Hibernation is the hedgehogs’ way of getting through the winter months when food supplies are scarce. Hibernation is very different to sleep. It’s a state of almost suspended animation where the hogs bodily functions slow down to almost stopping point in order to conserve resources. 

Hibernation is just one more of the hedgehogs’ ancient traits and it’s starting to get serious attention from scientists. 

Researchers are now looking into how hibernation might be used in humans to aid space travel or help in recovery from major physical trauma. 

It seems that humans share with hedgehogs the physical equipment needed to hibernate. And even though we don’t use it now, there is some evidence that early humans may have hibernated in much the same way as hedgehogs, to get through harsh winters. 

A hedgehog will eat food equivalent to 20% of her own body weight in one sitting during the run-up to hibernation. That’s equivalent to an average man eating 112 quarter pounders in one meal. It makes me wonder what astronaut training might look like in the future!

4. Snake Charmers

Another of the hedgehogs’ surprising adaptations is their ability to resist the effects of venom. Snake bites – pah! Who cares? 

Now in the UK, our only venomous snake is the adder. An adult adder grows to between 2 and 3 feet long. Not a tiny snake, but it’s still doubtful whether it could actually penetrate the spines of a full-grown adult hedgehog. So maybe for UK hedgehogs, the problem doesn’t come up that much. But hedgehogs around the world have more fearsome slitherers to contend with and there is plenty of evidence of the hog’s poison resistance. 

Although hedgehogs aren’t completely immune to the effects of venom, they are much less affected than other mammals of a similar size. And when they are bitten during hibernation their protection increases dramatically. 

How do they do it? Studies of hedgehog muscle plasma have found a  macroglobulin proteinase inhibitor called erinacin which inhibits the effectiveness of venom. It’s not surprising to find that this aspect of the hedgehog is also very interesting to science. 

Why do they do it? Well, there is speculation that this adaptation may be more about enabling the hedgehog to have a varied diet. It’s not just snakes that are venomous. Frogs toads and some spiders can deliver a shot of poison too. The hedgehog is able to eat these with no ill effects. They can even eat small snakes and slow worms. 

5. Part of The Ecosystem

Like all creatures hedgehogs are part of the ecosystem. And every part of the ecosystem, be it trees animals, plants landscapes of the weather have a crucial part to play. It’s a balancing act, natures Jenga, and the removal of any one part can topple the whole thing. 

This video explains it really well. Wolves were removed from Yellowstone national park in the US because they kill lots of other species – including occasional tourists. They were absent for 70 years and this is what happened with the wolves were re-introduced. 

I love this video because although it shows the damage we can do to the ecosystem by tampering with it, it also shows how quickly things can recover when the natural order is restored. It’s a very hopeful story. 

But we’re talking about hedgehogs, not wolves, you may say. The truth is though we don’t know what role hedgehogs play in the ecosystem. The interrelationships are too complex for us to fully understand them. But whatever role they do play we can be sure it is in some way vital to maintaining the balance that all life, including us humans, depends on. 

6. Indicator Species

One of the most important thighs about our hedgehogs is that they are an indicator species. They act as a barometer for the health of our local environment. 

Unlike some other wildlife, Hedgehogs aren’t fussy, they don’t depend on just one food source, or get adversely affected by small changes in the weather.  Hedgehogs enjoy a varied diet and are pretty flexible about what they eat, they are also able to live happily in lots of different environments. 

Why are Hedgehogs important

When hedgehogs are thriving it’s reasonable to assume that other creatures will be too. All is well in the local environment. A thriving hedgehog population indicates a plentiful supply of invertebrates, good diversity of habitat and connectivity of the natural environment. These things are important to a whole range of wildlife, not just hedgehogs. 

Where hedgehogs are in decline, as they are in much of the UK today, this is likely due to a paucity of invertebrates, dwindling and fragmented habitat. These factors are all indicators of generally poor environmental health which will eventually impact other species, including us humans. 

Thanks for Reading

So hedgehogs really are important. And better still helping hedgehogs will help a whole host of other wildlife too. 

It’s easy to help hedgehogs in your garden:

And if you are interested in helping hedgehogs beyond the bounds of your own garden think about getting involved with one of these organisations:

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society. 

The Wildlife Trusts

The Peoples Trust For Endangered Species

All these organisations do excellent work in the fight to save hedgehogs, raising awareness and working to influence government policy.  They need all the support we can give them.

Thanks again for reading. If you have questions or suggestions we would love to hear them. Leave us a comment below. 

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9 Responses

  1. Hi iv got two hedgehog houses an have always put food inside ,they always eat it ,but because they have started to make a hibernation iv put food in another feeding station .They have been sleeping in them ,but now they haven’t been in the houses should I still put food in the houses I recently had a hog in the box who came out for a drink in the day ,he couldn’t walk on his left leg ,I contacted the hedgehog people she’s took him to the vets ,an he had broken his leg in three places an was put to sleep ,I was so upset for him ,at least I did what I could for him kind regards Ann uk

  2. I recently over the last couple of months started putting hedgehog food out at night. I bought a land camera and every morning my wife and I view it. We have counted up to seven visits every night caught on camera. Absolutely brilliant and they like me love their Predator Proof hedgehogs house I bought
    from Home & Roost.

    Regards Roger

  3. Thank you so much for all your useful information. I have recently rescued two hedgehogs and need all the help I can get to help them to thrive. The joy of seeing them every evening feeding is wonderful. I have not seen any babies yet but that would be the icing on the cake. Thanks again and keep up the good work. Ann

  4. Hello,I have a hedgehog house which I regularly tend,leaving clean bedding and food, not sure who is eating the food though! I tend to check on the house every 2-3 days but as yet I haven’t seen a hog! Could something else be entering a mouse or rat maybe? The food is always taken but,I don’t fancy the thought of a rat in the garden!

    1. Do you have a camera watching them? They may be going in and eating the food and leaving for their nest elsewhere. We found we were getting a hedgehog back in June, we heard a noise so I put out a camera and not only 1 but 3 came. I put out a variety of foods and purchase a hog house. None went in the house so I put a trail of food into it to encourage them in. 1 went in several times, I then added a few leaves, it went in and stayed in for 20 minutes. After that I added more leaves and she started to stay longer. One night I saw her taking leaves in, now I don’t have many leaves so I went to our local church rooms and got a large bag of fallen leaves and put by the hog house, she took them all, she has taken in hay and every night comes back with bedding from our neighbours garden. One week ago she moved in. The other 2 still visit us every night.
      We do get the odd mouse and sometimes a cat or two but they never bother our hedgehogs 🦔 🦔 🦔

  5. Hi
    I have hedgehogs in my garden that i out food and water or for every night. I’ve recently been bought a hedgehog house. Where is the best place to put it?

  6. Another great article. We have a couple of regular hedgehogs but did have several more during mating. We feed them nightly and there are a couple of houses they use sometimes.
    The video on the wolves was very interesting. Thanks.

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