Lee Richardson Zoo

African Hedgehog

Order:  Insectivora - shrews, moles, hedgehogs terrances
Family: Erinaceidae - gymnures, hedgehogs
Scientific Name:Atelerix albiventris


Description:  Hedgehogs range from 6.8” to 9.2” long and weigh between 9.5-24.5oz.  The body, except for the face, legs, and underparts, is covered with dense spines.  The upper part of the spines are often chocolate covered, with tips being pale yellow.  White fur is found on the belly, feet, neck, and face behind the nose.  This coloration is reflected in its scientific name (albiventris = white ventral side (belly)).  Hedgehogs have a short tail.  Five toes are found on each front foot, but unlike other species of African hedgehogs, they lack a hallux (big toe) on their rear feet.  Like other insectivores, hedgehog teeth lack specialization and are sharp and pointy throughout.              


Home Range:  Northern and central Africa, or
Senegal to Sudan and southern Tanzania.  


Habitat Type:  Sandy, well drained soils in areas where it can sleep in dry shelters like abandoned termitaries, rock crevices, buildings, or under tangles of brushwood or dry leaf litter.


Reproduction:  Generally solitary.  Both females with young and mated pairs stay together for a brief period before the young are driven off or the pair lose interest in one another.    
            Breeding seasons have not been noted in East Africa.  However in Zambia and Rhodesia, the young are born in November, about 2 months after the animals emerge from aestivation.  Anywhere from 2 to 10 spineless young (usually five) are born.
            Courtship is often an extended ritual.  The male will walk round and round a female in oestrus for hours, puffing and extending his snout towards her.  Her response is usually to butt him vigorously and snort angrily, and she may continue to reject him, often for days.  His persistence often pays off.  The female releases her spines and stretches back her hind legs to expose her genitalia.  The male’s long penis reduces his risk of injury.  The male’s reproductive system secretes a gum like plug that seals the vagina after copulation.  Young are born blind and almost naked with a few soft spines after a 30-40 day gestation.  At birth the mother licks the young, eats the afterbirth, and picks the young up one by one and places them on her belly to suckle.
            Within 2-3 days after birth, dark spines begin to grow.  At this stage, the development of the muscular mantle is apparent, but the young are not able to roll up until they are a month old.  At this time they are covered in a 1st generation of weak spines.  These infant spines are then shed shortly thereafter.  Eyes open between 8-18 days.  By the age of 1 month, they accompany the mother on foraging trips.  They are weaned by 40 days, after which the young leave the family group.  Although hedgehogs can breed at 80 to 90 days old, they make poor parents this young and often cannibalize the young.  Normally they will breed by the following year.  In captivity, the mother and young must not be disturbed until the babies have their quills, or she will eat them
Diet in the Wild:  Hedgehogs eat primarily insects, earthworms, snails, and slugs, but a wide variety of other animal and even vegetable foods are eaten (eggs and ground nesting birds, small mammals, frogs, reptiles, crabs, fruit, fungi, roots and groundnuts).  Hedgehogs will eat a third of their body weight in one night.  Hunting mainly by scent, hedgehogs can smell buried food 1-2” below ground.  Immobile food (slugs, plants) are toyed with before eating, but active food is snapped at and eaten rapidly.  Lizards and mice are shaken to death.  Snakes are occasionally eaten by hedgehogs.  Although not immune to snake venom, they have about 40 times the resistance of a guinea pig.        


Diet in the Zoo:  Kitten chow, a pinch of AAA brand carnivore meat, and bird mix (bird food pellets mixed with mashed fruit).


General Information: Hedgehogs have poor eyesight but their sense of hearing and smelling are acute.  Being nocturnal, they are seldom seen at dusk or dawn.  Hedgehogs have a small home range, usually 220-330 yards surrounding their nest.  Temperatures around 98°F are preferred.  Hibernation is most likely triggered by biochemical changes associated with a decline in the availability and quality of food, not with temperature.  During hibernation, hedgehogs live off fat deposits.
            Hedgehogs are mainly terrestrial, but are good swimmers and climbers.  Besides for protection, their spines serve as cushion when they fall or drop deliberately from a height.
            An unusual practice called self anointing is often performed.  This consists of licking a object until a frothy saliva accumulates around the mouth.  This froth is then placed onto the spines around the head and shoulders using the tongue.  This behavior may be related to breeding or possibly is an extra protection against predators.  They also roll into a ball to protect their vulnerable face and belly.          


Conservation Status:  There are no major threats to this specie even though there is occasional pressure from the pet trade.


Predators:  Large birds of prey and a variety of carnivores are known to prey on hedgehogs.  They are a favorite prey of the Verreaux’s eagle owl, which eats everything but the cape.  They are often killed by dogs.



East African Mammals Vol. IIA.   1984.  Jonathan Kingdon.  University of Chicago Press.

Walker’s Mammals of the World, 4th Edition Vol. 1.  1983.  Ronald M. Nowak and John L. Paradiso.  Johns Hopkins University Press.

Grzimeks Animal Life Encyclopedia Vol. 10, Mammals 1.  1975.  Dr. Bernhard Grzimek.  Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.