African Pygmy Hedgehog
Erinaceus atelerix albiventris
Also called white-bellied hedgehog
- This species can be housed in larger aquarium style tanks or wire style enclosures as long as the wire does not encourage climbing.
- You must provide a heat pad for hedgehogs year round otherwise they can go into torpor during cooler times of the year. Any temperatures below 70 degrees seem to trigger the torpor state. Try to avoid torpor because it can by physiologically stressful for the animal. Do not use heat “rocks” like the type used for reptiles unless you have it attached to a thermostat/rheostat to control the temperature. Hot rocks used without temperature control can cause burns on the animal. Make sure to provide a temperature gradient with the heat pad so the animal can move to a zone of comfort. If the heat pad covers the whole enclosure bottom, it is not possible for the animal to find a cooler spot if it desires to.
- Hedgehogs do not need a tremendous amount of space, especially if they use a running wheel (see below for more information on running wheels). They are primarily terrestrial so they will not utilize vertical space well and can be prone to falling so limit climbing opportunities. A good minimum enclosure size is 1.5′ x 2.5′ but plan on outside of enclosure exercise time if housing in minimum sized enclosures.
- You can bed hedgehogs on shavings (not cedar, preferably aspen), newspaper or mulch. With mulch, it can be difficult to spot fecal material which can make cleaning more difficult. Some institutions use fleece fitted over sheets of coroplast instead of shavings or newspaper. The fleece is sewn at the corners to make a “fitted sheet” and is switched out every couple days and laundered, Loose pieces of fleece are provided as nesting materials. It is easy to spot issues with feces or other substances with this method. For more information, look here: African Hedgehogs
- Provide at least one hide box for each animal. Position one of the hides over the heating pad.
- Single sex groups of hedgehogs can be cohoused but be observant of feed intake since one hedgehog can eat all the food if not monitored. Some hobby breeders have reported that males can sometimes get rough when housed with females, so social groups tend to be single sex. However, males and females have been successfully housed at some institutions, as long as the enclosure is quite large and there are a multitude of hide spots – and that the institution is prepared for babies!
- When introducing two hedgehogs, go very slowly. The challenge is that, due to their very nocturnal nature, it is very difficult to monitor their behavior together.
- At institutions where hedgehogs are housed singly, the hedgehogs are often “exercised” together in a monitored setting so that they still get the opportunity for some social interaction. (This is not a social species, so single housing does not have a negative welfare implication, but the social interaction is used as a form of enrichment.)
- Many hedgehogs will use running wheels but only use the type that do not have openings that a foot can get caught in. The small version of the “chinchilla flying saucer” wheel and solid plastic types are good choices.
- Hedgehogs will use water bottles.
- San Francisco Zoo: We keep our hedgehogs in Critter Nation enclosures on GEM shavings. They always have access to an exercise wheel and 2 hiding spots.
- Hedgehogs are omnivorous.
- In the wild, they eat insects, other small animals (both invertebrates and vertebrates)
- St. Louis Zoo: hedgehogs are fed Mighty Dog canned dog food, fruits, vegetables, mealworms, cooked egg yolk, and hedgehog biscuit. The diet fed at the Saint Louis Zoo is Mazuri Insectivore diet (amount of kibble varies per individual – usually 10-12g), 1g canned Friskies cat food, 1 gram produce, and 3 superworms or crickets.
- Hedgehogs in human care are prone to obesity so diet must be strictly controlled and exercise wheels are helpful to encourage additional activity.
- San Francisco Zoo: Our baseline hedgehog diet is as follows:
- 3 tsp Mazuri insectivore kibble
- 6 grams mice, chopped finely
- 4 grams cooked vegetables
- 3 grams fruit
- 3 mealworms
- 3 crickets
- We increase this diet as needed based on the individual’s body condition. The hedgehogs are fed once daily in the late afternoon. We offer both a small water bowl and a lix-it, and the hedgehogs utilize both of them.
- Greensboro Science Center: Our hedgehogs get: 5g moistened Mazuri insectivore, 5g fruit or veg (usually only getting fruit once a week), and 3g or 4g protein depending on the individual (proteins consist of feline nebraska meat, 4 mealworms, cooked egg, or wet cat food). They are fed in the PM as they are on a natural light cycle.
- Generally, hedgehogs are healthy animals but sometimes develop neurological symptoms as they get older. Sometimes animals develop “wobbly hedgehog syndrome” which can be earlier in onset and typically reduce quality of life rapidly. Animals that are going into torpor can also have a wobbly gait so be sure to check temperatures before concluding that this is a sign of a neurologic condition.
- Responsible private sector breeders are working on reducing the incidence of wobbly hedgehog syndrome by not breeding lines that have shown this tendancy. If you purchased a hedgehog from a breeder that later develops this syndrome, report it to the breeder so they are aware.
- Tumors in aging hedgehogs are also a concern.
- Hedgehogs can be carriers of Salmonella.
Notes on Enrichment & Training
- Scent enrichments are very well utilized by hedgehogs and will often produce excessive salivation. The saliva is sometimes spread by the animals to its spines and is referred to as anting or anointing. It is thought this is a way for the animal to spread toxins to its spines as an anti predator behavior. They are more limited in their reaction to objects like balls and do not manipulate items with food hidden inside. They will search for scattered food.
- Hedgehogs at the Philadelphia Zoo have been desensitized to handling through positive reinforcements. These animals were trained by placing on handlers laps on towels and hand feeding mealworms when they would uncurl. With repetition, the hedgehogs no longer curl up defensively when picked up and handled.
- It can be useful to use a child’s wading pool to present hedgehogs in addition to holding them. An astroturf mat cut to fit the pool bottom makes a great substrate for traction, allowing visitors to see the hedgehog to move around, interact with objects, and forage for meal worms.
- At Roger Williams Park Zoo, we realized that the key to a tractable hedgehog is to begin acclimation to handling as early as possible. We were considering removing them from the collection plan because we are committed to showing animals who are very clearly relaxed and out of the 6 we’ve had in the past few years, only 1 was relaxed on program. We added 4 babies early in 2016 that were obtained from different breeders. All were handled as early as possible and all had traceable bloodlines, since there are only so many breeders in New England. All 4 individuals have proved to be amazing ambassadors.
Colony or Breeding Management
Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.
Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).
Tips on Presentation
- Hedgehogs can be a tad shy – if your individual won’t unroll, place him/her in a clear tub or on a table and usually they will unroll and walk around enough for people to see their cute faces.
Tips on Handling
- Hedgehogs can be handled by a wide variety of handler skill levels.
- Gloves are recomended when handling.
- Hedgehogs defecate and urinate frequently so it may be useful to hold a hedgehog upon a small towel.
- Generally, hedgehogs make a good program animal. They have interesting adaptations and are representatives of the insectivore group.
- Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty.
Hedgehogs are illegal to keep as pets in some states so make sure you know local laws regarding this species if you have one as a program animal since you are sure to be asked about having one as a pet.
- Climate change: Desert and Dryland species have specific adaptations for the temperature and water availability in their natural habitat and may not be able to adjust to the drying effects of climate change. Hotter conditions promote wildfires. More extreme drought conditions kill plants that hold the soil in place and occasional extreme rain events wash that soil away preventing them from growing back in a process called desertification. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Please ask guests to walk, bike, or take public transportation when possible and to reduce their use of fossil fuels when they do drive by buying a fuel economic car, carpooling, combining errands, and keeping vehicles properly tuned up and their tires properly inflated. At home and work, purchase Energy Star appliances, turn off lights when they are not in use, and use heaters and air conditioners sparingly. The principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle will also help by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions involved with the manufacture and disposal of unnecessary goods. http://www.unep.org/geo/gdoutlook/045.asp
- Cell Phones – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The Congo region and the island of Madagascar are extensively mined for coltan and other minerals that go into cell phones, tablets, and computers. Natural habitat, frequently in areas that are legally protected, is lost for wildlife, trees and topsoil scraped away. In addition, toxins from discarded electronics leach out of local landfills and contaminate waterways here at home. Please ask guests to think twice before replacing their electronic devices and to recycle their old ones when they do. http://www.houstonzoo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Why-should-I-recycle-my-cell-phone.pdf
- Occasionally surplus hedgehogs are available within AZA institutions. Como Park Zoo also has been a source for other institutions.
- The most reliable source currently are private sector breeders.
- The wild type coloration animals tend to be healthier as new color phases require significant inbreeding to be created, which also increases health issues from inbreeding depression.
- Make sure that the breeder has a healthy lineage of hedgehogs that are free from wobbly-leg syndrome–an incurable genetic disease
Comments from the Rating System
- Birmingham Zoo: They make great animals for Birthday Party demos, small classes, and as contact animals. They are not great for larger-scale demos due to their size.
- Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: We had one male pygmy hedgehog who passed away a couple years ago from cancer. He was relatively easy to care for. We fed him insectivore diet which he ate well and was only slightly overweight. He would smush out a little when curled up but no serious weight issues. He would become active during the day if put into his exercise ball, which he loved. Other than that he had normal nocturnal behaviors. We didn’t have issues with him being misbehaved for daytime programs. He was desensitized to handling (with leather gloves) from years of handling and taught to curl up when we turned our hands a certain way so the public could see him in a ball and the defensive measures. We had a pelt they could touch but he is no contact for the public. Public thought he was “cute” so they enjoyed the shows even though they are fairly common in the pet trade, which we addressed at all the shows.
- CuriOdyssey: Easy husbandry but over the past several years we have noted more health problems associated with genetics
- Downtown Aquarium, Denver: Not much of a “wow” factor; many people pass her by as they have seen them in pet stores or have friends who have them as pets.
- Henry Vilas Zoo: They are nice and people like them because the can be touched; teach mammalian attributes and adaptation with them; compare and contrast with tenrecs
- Lee Richardson Zoo: Always housed individually as one hedgehog always seems to dominate the food and become overweight (at the expense of the other) if housed together. We do not “train” our hedgehogs specifically but they become accustomed to handling very quickly.
- Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Requires a very specific diet
- Natural Science Center of Greensboro: work better if you can raise it from the time its young
- Philadelphia Zoo: Popular, easy to handle, need to be socialized otherwise they will remain curled up.
- Roger Williams Park Zoo: Susceptible to tumors later in life
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
African hedgehogs are found in Senegal to Sudan, Southern Tanzania, and Central Africa. Their preferred habitat is forests and grasslands where cover is available.
This small hedgehog has light-colored spines and white fur on the underbelly. It has short legs and poor eyesight, although its hearing and sense of smell is quite good The spines are modified hairs and can become erect for defense. Spines protect a hedgehog from predators and also cushion the animal if it falls out of a tree. (They like to climb.) Unlike the quills on a porcupine, the spines on a hedgehog are not easily removed.
African hedgehogs grow to be 7 to 9 inches long when stretched out, and weigh between three-quarters of a pound to a pound and a half. Females are slightly larger than males, and both sexes are smaller than the European hedgehog (which is why this species is also called the Pygmy hedgehog.)
African hedgehogs typically mate in October and March. After a gestation period of 30 to 40 days, 2 to 7 naked and blind young are born. The babies’ spines start to emerge after just one day of life. Their eyes will open when they are two weeks old.
In the wild, an African hedgehog will live about 2 to 3 years. In captivity, hedgehogs can reach 8-10 years.
Generally nocturnal and always solitary, hedgehogs will fiercely defend their territories. In colder regions, hedgehogs will become torpid or hibernate. When threatened, the hedgehog will hiss, jerk, erect spines, and finally roll up into a ball.
Threats and Conservation Status
African hedgehogs have a purse string muscle that allows them to curl up completely. This raises the spines and protects the head, belly, and legs. Therefore, the only natural predators of African hedgehogs are large owls and raptors with well-protected feet. However, in many parts of the world, humans also eat hedgehogs. They are not listed as endangered.
Did you know…
- Hedgehogs, when encountering a new or strong smell or substance, will often lick the substance, produce foamy saliva, and apply it to all or part of their spines. Although no one is exactly sure why hedgehogs self-annoint, the most commonly accepted theory is that the hedgehog, which is resistant to many toxins, is spreading a potential toxin or camouflaging smell on their bodies for protection.
- Hedgehogs are very resistant to insect toxins, chemical poisons, and snake venom.
- There are 17 or more species of hedgehog around the world, ranging from the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa!!
- Hedgehogs make noises ranging from snuffling and snorts, to squeaking when they are nursing. Males often squeak when trying to attract a female to mate with.
- Males are known as boars; females are called sows.
- Hedgehogs can swim, run, and climb.
- The skin and spines of African hedgehogs are used as fertility charms in some cultures.
Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.
- Check out sample animal policies, handling sheets, and fact sheets on our Example Policies & Guidelines page
- View past issues of Program Animal SAG Newsletters
Contributors and Citations
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- Fresno Chaffee Zoo
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
Top Photo: Photo by Philadelphia Zoo Staff