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.