Close Up On: African Pygmy Hedgehog

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Let’s meet Puca.

Cutie

Hedgie in a mug!

Puca is an African Pygmy Hedgehog.

While the word Pygmy implies that the hedgehog is smaller than a normal member of the species, for the African Pygmy Hedgehog that is not the case.  These African Hedgehogs are exactly the size that they are meant to be.  They are the smallest of the hedgehog species, generally being between 15 – 25 centimeters (5.9 – 9.8 inches) in length though some have been measured up to 12 inches in size.  Their weight averages between 250 and 600 grams (8.8 – 21 oz).  Females generally are larger than the males of the species.

Contrary to popular belief their legs are not short and stubby, but actually rather long and elegant averaging at 7.62 centimeters (3 inches) long. The African Pygmy Hedgehog, also called the Four-Toed Hedgehog, is the only one of its species that has only four toes on each foot.  While there are anomalies within the species where the hallux may be slightly formed, it’s unusual enough to retain this distinction.

A well bred hedgehog will have large ears, a short muzzle, and long whiskers. it will have 36 teeth, the most notable of which are little ‘fangs’ at the front on the upper and lower jaw. Unlike rodents, the hedgehogs teeth will not continuously grow throughout its life, but are fully grown around the time they finish weaning. If fed too much hard food, or chewing on too many hard things, the teeth /will/ chip which can be a problem.

In the wild African Pygmy Hedgehogs are typically white or cream with gray or brown banding.  Their fur is occasionally speckled, with a brown mask, and the underside and legs are white in color earning them the name of white-bellied hedgehogs. In captivity the hedgehogs have a wide variety of colors – 92 variations thus recorded – including everything from split facial masks, badger stripes, and even pirate patches on occasion.

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What is a hedgehog?

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What exactly is a hedgehog?

The question may seem simple, but it’s been debated for a rather long while. Here in North America, where there is no native hedgehog population, they commonly get mistaken for porcupines and vice versa; in Europe they’re seen as a cultural icon. Regardless of where they are there is one thing for certain. They’re cute. Impossibly so. They’re also incredibly adaptable.

It is now believed that hedgehogs have been around for over 75 million years, and possibly as long as 100 million. To put it into perspective the hedgehog lived alongside the dinosaurs, sabretoothed cats, woolly mammoths, and dodo birds. They were worn on amulets in ancient Egypt to encourage fertility, and viewed as a delicacy in ancient Sumerian culture. One of the first recorded recipes, in fact, was a way to eat a hedgehog.

So, what is a hedgehog?

Scientifically speaking: they’re in the Class Mammalia, Order Insectivora, and theFamily Erinaceidae. They have no living relatives now, although some believe they might be related to the shrew and vole.

What does this mean for the layperson?  It means that the hedgehog is not in fact a rodent, but rather an insectivore – the most ancient of mammals. They are true omnivores, subsisting primarily on insects, slugs, spiders, snails, worms and some small greens. Perfect for the English countryside, where the European Hedgehog has lived for hundreds of years.

The most commonly seen species of hedgehog outside of Europe is the African pygmy hedgehog, or simply the African hedgehog.  A hybrid of Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix algirus the African hedgehog is notably smaller than its European cousin. They come in a variety of colors and markings since they first began to be tamed, and are easily identified by their four toed back feet and their white furred bellies.

African hedgehogs are native to Senegal in western Africa across to southern Somalia and Tanazania in the East. They’re one of a believed fifteen various hedgehog species scattered through Africa and Eurasia, though some believe there to be even more species. However many species there may be, they’re certainly becoming a popular pet both in the U.S. and the UK.