Hedgehog facts – what they eat, how they hibernate and how you can help

Curled up hedgehog
Hedgehogs all over the UK are ready to hibernate (Photo: Amy Lewis/WTML)

By now most hedgehogs will be thinking about snuggling down in their hibernation nests for the winter. And it’s at this time of year that we need to watch out for this cute creature and help it survive the harsh months ahead. So we’ve put together some useful advice, as well as some fascinating hedgehog facts.

When do hedgehogs hibernate?

Hedgehogs usually hunker down and hibernate from October or November until March or April. But if it’s a mild winter, hedgehogs are often still up and about in December!

Where do hedgehogs hibernate?

They like to curl up in piles of dead leaves, stacks of logs, compost heaps or under garden sheds.

Do they just go to sleep for the whole winter?

No, they enter a state called ‘torpor’ in which they use up very little energy. Their heart rate drops to around 20 beats per minute from its usual 190 beats. They wake up every now and again to eat and go to the toilet.

How do they prepare for hibernation?

By stuffing themselves with as much food as they can find in the autumn. They need to weigh between 500 and 700g to survive the winter.

How can I help them?

Some hedgehogs are still out and about in November and December, especially if the weather has been mild. But young hedgehogs may not have had time to put on enough weight. If you see one that looks a bit small, you can pick it up in a towel and weigh it. If it’s less than 500g, it’s not fat enough to hibernate so contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890 801) for advice on what to do. You might end up looking after a hedgehog for the winter!

What do hedgehogs eat?

Throughout the cold months, you could also put out some hedgehog food (available in pet stores), or just some meat-flavoured cat biscuits, along with a dish of water, in case hibernating hogs wake up for a snack. Don’t put out bread or milk as this is bad for them.

What if I accidentally disturb a hibernating hedgehog?

Don’t move it. Cover it back over with a thick layer of dry leaves. You could leave a little bowl of food and some water nearby so there’s something to eat if it does wake up and needs a bite to eat.

What eats hedgehogs?

Foxes and birds of prey, such as tawny owls, will eat hedgehogs if they get a chance. But a hedgehog is able to protect itself by raising its spines and rolling up into a tight ball. No one likes a mouth full of prickles! Apart from badgers, that is, who don’t seem to mind at all. In the countryside, badgers are their main predator.

What are hedgehog spines made of?

They’re thick hairs made of keratin, the same stuff that your nails are made of. There’s a muscle attached to the base of each spine so the hedgehog can raise them if it feels threatened. An adult hedgehog has an amazing 7,000 spines.

If you manage to save a hedgehog this winter, don’t forget to tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on Instagram or Twitter using #NatureDetectives. And don’t forget to post a picture – we just love cute hedgehog pics!

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