T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Hedgehog (Brown) Erinaceus europaeus ssp. occidentalis

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Erinaceomorpha
Family: Erinaceidae
Subfamily: Erinaceinae
Genus: Erinaceus
Scientific name: Erinaceus europaeus
Sub species name: Erinaceus europaeus ssp. occidentalis
Common name: European hedgehog, Western hedgehog, Brown-Breasted Hedgehog

During the late 19th century hedgehogs were introduced accidentally to New Zealand from Britain (due to lethargic specimens hidden in bales of hay). It is a subspecies called Erinaceus europaeus ssp. occidentalis. They are now widespread, and estimated to number between two and four per hectare in most areas, perhaps reaching as many as 8 per hectare in optimum conditions. They were initially introduced to remind settlers of home, but were widely distributed once they became regarded as natural predators of invertebrate garden pests. They have a size of 30-38 cm long, weighing up to 700 - 1000 grams. They have chocolate-brown banded quills with brown underbelly fur. A young hedgehog is called a hoglet.
Hedgehogs are easily recognized by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Their spines are not poisonous. They cannot easily be removed from the hedgehog. However, spines normally come out when a hedgehog sheds baby spines and replaces them with adult spines. This is called "quilling." When under extreme stress or during sickness, a hedgehog can also lose spines.
As defence hedgehogs possess an ability to roll into a tight ball, this causing all of the spines to point outwards. Hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal. The hedgehog sleeps for a large portion of the daytime either under cover of bush, grass, rock or in a hole in the ground. Hibernation depends on temperature and abundance of food.
Hedgehogs have a gestation period of 35–58 days. The average litter is 3–4 newborns. As with many animals, it is not unusual for an adult male hedgehog to kill newborn males.
The hedgehog’s diet consists mainly of invertebrates, but there is plenty of evidence from their native Europe that they eat other foods, including eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. New Zealand scientists have found one hedgehog with 283 weta legs in its stomach, and now know that female hedgehogs in particular are catching and eating native skinks, perhaps because they need the protein boost for breeding. They also eat the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds such as the endangered black stilt. Studies by Landcare Research suggest that hedgehogs are responsible for significant levels of predation on skinks and ground-nesting native birds’ eggs, and raise suspicions that mature females may be the worst culprits.
The gestation period is 35–58 days. The average litter is 3–4 newborns. As with many animals, it is not unusual for an adult male hedgehog to kill newborn males.
Many people think hedgehogs are disease carriers, they are not. Things like mange are not transferable to humans. Of course, strict hygiene rules apply as with all animals and thoroughly wash hands after handling

A Taranaki News Report
Cute garden snufflers killers in spiny guise By MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2011

ROBERT CHARLES/Taranaki Daily News

Whether albino or regular brown, hedgehogs are increasingly being recognised as pests in the same league as ferrets, stoats and cats. Cute as they may be, hedgehogs are treating New Zealand's native flora and fauna like an all-you-can eat buffet. To Landcare Research biologist Chris Jones this puts the European import up there with stoats, ferrets or cats regardless of whether they are brown or a fetching white like the type rescued from Hurworth Rd in New Plymouth on Monday night.
"I get emails from people saying they found a hedgehog in their chicken coop eating the chicks and they can't believe it. But that is what they do. They eat everything," he said. This includes weta, ground-nesting birds and native skinks. Though individually they are less destructive than a feral cat, Dr Jones said they more than made up for it with their sheer numbers. He was hesitant to take a guess at what that number may be, but his own research has shown hedgehogs can reach a density of eight per hectare under optimum conditions. Ironically the species is in decline in its European homeland.

If Dr Jones had his way New Zealand hedgehogs would become a routinely targeted pest, but he admits it will take time to change the public's "Enid Blyton" perception of them as cute garden snufflers rather than dangerous predators.
"Stoats, ferrets and possums get all the attention. They are like the bad guys in balaclavas during a bank heist. Meanwhile, hedgehogs are the guys in the background, quietly opening the safe," he said.
Be that as it may Taranaki Regional Council pest manager Steve Ellis said the hedgehog did not make it onto the council's list of animal pests. "We do recognise they have pest characteristics and we know that more and more they are becoming a pest species," he said. "Our pest plan is up for renewal next year so it is possible they could be included on that." But only if people wanted it to be included and money spent on their control, he said.
As a point of interest Mr Ellis said albino hedgehogs were not as rare as people imagined and he often saw them while out and about.
Several others also contacted the Taranaki Daily News yesterday to report their regular interaction with the prickly white critters. Whether this makes Taranaki the albino hedgehog capital of New Zealand could not be verified last night.

 



Hedgehog balled up in a defence position
 
An albino and brown hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) showing disadvantage with loss of camaflage 
  





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