Many of our readers report seeing hedgehogs in their garden “fighting.” Whether you catch this action live or on trail cam it’s a fascinating and often alarming sight: two pin cushions having a go at each other, often with spectacular sound effects. But are they really fighting? If so, why? And is this something you should be worried about? Do they hurt each other?
We’ll try and answer all your questions here.
Why Do Hedgehogs Fight?
Although hedgehogs have impressive defence systems in the form of these fearsome spines, they are not terribly well equipped for fighting.
They have pretty soft, weak claws, and their teeth aren’t particularly sharp and also slant slightly backwards into their mouths.
But as many of you have seen, hedgehogs do sometimes get egressive with one another, so what’s it all about.
Many wild animals compete over territory. Birds do it. The Robin, for example, will fight fiercely to keep other robins off his patch.
So are our hedgehogs fighting over territory?
Well, no, because hedgehogs aren’t territorial. Whilst hedgehogs do have a “home range” and area where they typically forage each night. But this area does not belong exclusively to one hog or group of hogs. Many hogs may use the same area in a night. Being solitary animals, they generally give each other a wide berth and don’t tend to come into close contact with one another.
When they do come into close contact, fighting can occur, depending on the individuals. It’s not that they are protecting a territory, they just like a little space. Pat Morris puts it beautifully in his book Hedgehogs.
“Hedgehogs need elbow room, not an empire.”
Lots of animals compete to establish their position in the group or the pecking order with the dominant animals getting first dibs on food and mates.
Is this what’s going on with hedgehogs?
No, hedgehogs are solitary creatures, they don’t live in groups. Males and females don’t bond for life, or even bring up litters together. Hoglets only stay with their mothers for a few weeks and sibilants seem to drift apart pretty quickly.
So although you may see a larger hog apparently trying to dominate a smaller one, this isn’t really about establishing who’s most powerful, It’s more likely to be a squabble about something happening in the here and now.
In many animal species aggression break out between males competing for a mate.
And this time hedgehogs are no exception.
During spring and late summer fights between males attracted to a female hog are common.
But all that noise does attract other boars, who may attempt to get rid of the courting male and move in on the female themselves.
Sometimes this works, and one or other of the boars will end up mating with the sow. Other times the argy-bargy goes on for so long the female gets bored and wanders off, and neither male gets a chance.
Pregnant females have also been known to have a go at other, usually smaller females who are crowding them.
And pregnant females will also turn on smaller males who may try to mate with them.
You could be forgiven for wondering why hedgehogs bother to compete over mates given their Casanova-live mating behaviour. During any mating, season hedgehogs don’t just get it on once, or even several times with one partner.
The average hedgehog makes the most of their chances of procreating by copulating an average of 12 times during a mating season, with many different partners, and often twice a night.
I feel tired, just thinking about it!
Food is a key source of conflict amongst urban and suburban hedgehogs.
On an average wild foraging night, the bits of food a hedgehog finds will be small and widely scattered.
Hedgehogs are unlikely to come into contact with one another whilst foraging, and even if they do, the food they are dealing with is likely to be too little to take much time to eat or to be worth defending.
But a well-stocked feeding station is another matter. This is a high yield food source. A large quantity of nutritionally rich food.
Although you will see many hogs happily sharing a dish of food, others will want to keep it all to themselves and will be aggressive towards another hedgehog moving in.
How to Stop Fights at Your Feeding Station
If you are observing lots of fighting at your feeding station, this may mean that smaller hogs, the ones who need the food the most, aren’t getting much of a look in.
The solution is straightforward: spread the food around a bit. If you have several hogs visiting your garden for dinner, it can be a good idea to have more than one feeding station. Place these in different areas of the garden, and everyone should be able to enjoy dinner in peace.
Which Hedgehogs Fight?
It seems to be down to the personality of individual hogs. There is no pattern in terms of age, and there have been no reports of an aggressive nature being handed down through generations. Size doesn’t even seem to be a particularly good indicator or the potential for aggression.
Sex is though. Males hogs are much more prone to aggression than females. Males can be aggressive toward other males, towards females and towards hoglets.
Females are very rarely aggressive towards one another or towards hoglets. Though there might come a time when a growing hoglet is hanging around the mother when she needs to start on a new litter. This may cause her to encourage the hoglet to leave.
Hoglet siblings often hang around together for a while after the mother has left, and may even hibernate together for the first winter. But there will come a time when they too need to separate. And if this is not possible, for example, if they are living in care together, there may be some aggression between siblings.
How Do Hedgehogs Fight?
Hedgehog fighting can often be mistaken for hedgehog mating, the sound effects are similar, and so is some of the behaviour.
Typically an attacking hog will lower its head, grunting and clucking, and charge at the flank of the other hog, trying to bowl it over. The attacker may even try to get its snout underneath the other hog and tip it over.
In the most brutal fights, the attacker will grab its victim by the throat and shake it like a dog with a blanket.
The victim can either ball up, stand its ground or have a go right back.
Some hedgehog tussles have been filmed going on for more than 15 minutes. And all accompanied by impressive hedgehog noises.
Do Hedgehogs Injure One Another When They Fight?
Although hedgehog fights can look and sound alarming, they are not usually anything to worry about. As we have mentioned, hedgehogs don’t have especially fearsome teeth or claws. Spines are often of similar length and even kept lowered in less severe fights.
Hedgehogs, especially males, do often have small wounds on their faces and flanks, which are probably a result of fighting. But hedgehogs heal exceptionally quickly.
So as long as you are providing plenty of space for everyone to get a go at the dinner, hedgehog fights are nothing for you to worry about, and do not need to be broken up.
One interesting fact noted by Pat Morris. Parasites and infectious diseases seem to be a lot more common amongst Male hogs. He speculates that this might be down to the higher level of fighting amongst males. The spines of an infected animal piercing the skin of another and spreading the disease.
Do Hedgehogs Attack Other Animals?
Hedgehogs are meat-eaters, and they will eat baby birds and other small animals. But as yet there is no evidence as to whether they attack and kill these animals or simple eat carrion – creatures that are already dead.
The usual response of hedgehogs to aggression from other species is to ball up and protect themselves with their spines.
But as we said earlier, hogs each have their won personality, and some are more feisty than others.
This hog is standing for no nonsense from kitty:
And I think I would roll into a ball if I had to face this pair of nasty looking dogs, but this hog seems determined to just get on with business:
Very occasionally a grumpy hog will bite a rescuer, but the bite certainly isn’t going to take your finger off.
So generally speaking, hedgehogs are not big on attacking other animals, defence is their usual response – but there is always the exception!
Conclusions – Hedgehogs Fight, it May Look Scary, But It’s Nothing to Worry About
It can feel strange to realise that these cutest of garden visitors can actually be quite aggressive.
But it’s nature, and better still, unlike some other species they rarely do each other any significant damage.
So make sure everyone has plenty of room to feed, relax and enjoy this as another privileged glimpse into the private life of the hedgehog.
We hope you enjoyed this article and found it interesting. Do you have suggestions, questions or hedgehog fisticuffs stories? We would love to hear them, leave us a comment below.
And for more prickly reads, check out our full hedgehog library here.