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History of the hedgehog

The history of hedgehogs is long and colourful.  There are five genera of hedgehogs worldwide; Erinaceus, Paraechinus, Mesechinus, Atelerix and Hemiechinus and actually a total of 17 species, found across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. Hedgehogs are absent from North and South America, Australia and South East Asia.

The most common pet hedgehog in the UK is in fact the African pygmy hedgehog sold in pet stores across the country, recognised by its white fur.

Know your hedgehogs: African Pygmy vs West European

Know your hedgehogs: African Pygmy vs West European

Hedgehogs have also been a big part of our culture in Britain, with mention in our classic literature as well as folklore tales.

Hedgehogs in literature…

One of the most famous hedgehogs is of course Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, the industrious washerwoman from Beatrix Potter’s stories. Beatrix Potter was inspired to write the book by her own pet hedgehog Mrs Tiggy-winkle.

Beatrix Potter's character Mrs Tiggy-WinkleBeatrix Potter’s character Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

Hedgehogs are also used as the balls in the Red Queen’s croquet match in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll.

As a delicacy…

In the past gypsies were well-known to be partial to a roasted hedgehog. The hedgehogs used to be rolled in clay and then baked in a fire, when the clay was cracked off after cooking the spines and hair would also be removed.

In experimental chef John Farley’s 1783 cookbook, The London Art of Cookery he offers sage advice on how to prepare hedgehogs with almonds, although perhaps we will never know how palatable it was.

Hedgehog folklore…

Taking milk from cows

Hedgehogs were thought to go around sucking milk from cows. This could have been possible if a cow was lying down in a field, though it is unlikely that a hedgehog would be able to suck milk from a cow’s udder, it’s more likely hedgehogs would lap up any milk that was leaking out of a full udder.

Carrying fruit on their spines

During medieval times hedgehogs were believed to carry fruit on their spines. This story was told across the hedgehog’s range, with similar stories being told in China! However, due to hedgehogs usually walk along with their spines flattened and not having the necessary power to impale the fruit on their spines this myth is almost certainly untrue.

Immune to snakebites

It has been suggested that hedgehogs are immune to snake bites. However, while it is certainly true that in Britain the adder (our only poisonous snake) is incapable of biting a hedgehog through its spines, if a hedgehog is bitten on its leg or face then the venom can make it very ill or even kill it. Research has shown that while hedgehogs are more resistant to snake venom that other animals they are not immune to it.

Hedgehog