Animal Facts

African Hedgehog

Scientific Name: Atelerix albiventris

Fast Fact:

The hedgehog uses hibernation as a survival technique when the temperature is too warm or too cold.

African Hedgehog

When threatened, an African hedgehog contracts its stomach muscle and rolls into a spiky, compact ball that protects its vulnerable face and belly. At the same time, the needle-sharp spines covering its back lift up, crisscross, and create an almost impenetrable barrier. Lions have been observed trying—and failing—to bite a rolled-up hedgehog!

STATUS: They are not endangered, and their population does not seem to be declining. They are useful to their ecosystem because they help to control insects and vermin.

HABITAT: The African hedgehog is widely distributed through the savannas of central Africa, from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia and Zambia in the eastern part of the continent. They live in semi-arid, relatively open habitats with patchy grass cover and sandy, well-drained soil. The hedgehog can be found in rock crevices, low-growing vegetation, piles of dry leaves and underground burrows.

DIET: This omnivore eats invertebrates such as termites, beetles, earthworms, and millipedes; small vertebrates including frogs, lizards, snakes, and mice; and eggs, fallen fruit, and fungi.They are amazingly resistant to insect toxins and snake venom and have been known to eat scorpions and poisonous snakes with no ill effects!

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The most distinctive feature of the African hedgehog is the approximately 5,000 spines that cover its back. The spines, which are actually modified hair, are filled with small, hollow cavities to minimize weight and are chocolate-colored with light yellow tips. Its stomach is covered in white hair while grayish-brown hair tops its face, legs and short tail. While the animal has five toes on its front feet, it differs from other hedgehog species by missing a big toe (hallux) on its rear feet. They have an excellent sense of smell and good hearing, and can live around seven to ten years.

Thank Goodness!

Fortunately for a hedgehog mother, her four to five babies are born with their spines just below the skin in a fluid-filled space. Within 24 hours the fluid is absorbed and their prickly spines begin to emerge. The young are weaned in about 40 days and begin to lead a solitary life.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals which, although not territorial, keep their distance from others of their species and can travel up to several miles a night in search of food. They engage in a unique behavior called self-anointing, which involves spreading a large amount of foamy saliva over their backs and sides with their long tongues in response to either strong-smelling foods or the presence of other hedgehogs. While the precise reason for this behavior is unknown, it may clean the spines and act as an insecticide and it may play a part in courtship.

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