A year in the life of a hedgehog

Hedgehog © Tom Marshall

For many hedgehogs, November marks the end of a busy and productive year

Is there anything more endearing than a hedgehog? Their small, rotund shape, the way they waddle around with a cute, bumbling shuffle.

Right about now hedgehogs should be going into hibernation, and for many individuals November marks end of a busy and productive year. Some may have already found a cosy hideaway where they can spend the winter – they are particularly fond of log piles and dead leaves.

During hibernation, hedgehogs drop their body temperature to match their surroundings and slow all their bodily functions right down. This makes normal activity impossible, and they save a great deal of energy this way. Although, during mild winters hedgehogs can remain active well into November and December, so if you’re lucky you may spot one before the year is out.

They tend to resurface around April, when they start fattening up to compensate for weight loss over the winter. Hedgehogs are very partial to cat food, and a shallow dish of fresh water is usually well received. Some well-meaning people think that bread and milk is a wholesome snack for hedgehogs, but they are actually lactose intolerant and bread holds little nutritional value to them. Meat-based cat or dog food is always best.

Mating season begins in May, and by June many female hedgehogs will be expecting up to seven little bundles of hoggy joy. While the young are too small to leave the nest, a mother hog will forage in the evening and return nightly to feed her young.

When the hoglets are around four weeks old they join their mother on her evening trips to learn the do’s and don’ts of foraging, but still return to the nest to take her milk.

With August comes the hoglet’s independence, and they set off to build their own lives and have their own adventures. Hedgehogs are solitary animals so they are unlikely to see their siblings again.

Now her babies have left the nest, a mature female may mate again and repeat the events of the past few months. However, this is a risky move as food is becoming increasingly scarce, and late litters often struggle to build up the necessary fat reserves to survive hibernation come winter.

As autumn fades and winter takes hold, our spiky friends find themselves right back where they started – tucked away in a cosy winter hidey-hole.