If you have a pet hedgehog, you're likely enjoying the company of the African pygmy hedgehog. This species is bred in captivity in North America for the pet industry. The African's cousin, the European hedgehog, is found primarily in England and is protected by law in some areas.
African pygmy hedgehogs and European hedgehogs share the same, spiny appearance; their spines are really hairs made of keratin. Europeans are larger, weighing up to about 2 pounds and growing about 10 inches long. They sport as many as 5,000 small brown spines and small tails. African pygmies can weigh up to 25 ounces and measure around 8 inches long. This guy varies in color, from brown to almost black, brown-and-white and all-white.
If you want a pet hedgehog, you'll have to make do with the African pygmy. These guys originated in the African savanna, but they've become popular in North America, where they're bred as pets. Wild African pygmy hedgehogs live in scrub forests of southern Africa, ranging from Senegal to Sudan and Zambia. European hedgehogs are found primarily in western Europe. They live in woodland, farmland and suburban areas, sheltering in nests made of leaves and moss during daylight hours. During hibernation time, from autumn to spring, they stay hidden under hedgerows.
Hedgehogs are omnivores. Wild African pygmies eat the same things as European hedgehogs, including worms, frogs, insects, ground nesting birds, eggs, snails and slugs, as well as fruits, seeds and roots. If your local zoo has an African pygmy hedgehog, he's probably eating dry hedgehog food pellets, mealworms and crickets. Pet hedgehogs can eat a bit of cat food, and fruits and vegetables including carrots, apple and bananas, in addition to mealworms and crickets.
European hedgehogs hibernate through the winter, which is a risky time for them. Their body temperatures fall, as do their heart rates -- from the normal 190 beats per minute to as low as 20 beats per minute. It's unsurprising that many of these guys don't survive the hibernation process. Wild African pygmy hedgehogs prefer temperatures ranging between 75 and 85 degrees and will hibernate in the winter or estivate in the summer if the temperature isn't ideal. Pet African pygmy hedgehogs aren't equipped to hibernate from their lives in captivity, although some will try to hibernate anyway, which can be dangerous for them.
In Britain, European hedgehogs are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and can't be trapped without a license. Though they aren't endangered, they are decreasing in number from habitat loss. It's illegal to transport wild African pygmy hedgehogs out of Africa; pet hedgehogs come from breeding stock in the United States.
- Lake Howell Animal Clinic: Hedgehog Health and Care Information
- International Hedgehog Association: An Introduction to the Hedgehog
- Heidi L. Hoefer, D.V.M: Introduction to the African Pygmy Hedgehog
- The Animal Files: European Hedgehog
- Hedgehog Central: European Hedgehogs
- Rosamond Gifford Zoo: African Pygmy Hedgehog
- Cosley Zoo: African Pygmy Hedgehog
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web: Atelerix Albiventris: Four-Toed Hedgehog
Donna Day/Photodisc/Getty Images