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Hedgehog breeding and babies

Courtship is a grandiose term for what is actually a rather ill-tempered and seemingly tedious affair.

(Pat Morris, The New Hedgehog Book)

Hedgehogs reach sexual maturity in their second year of life, and after this can breed every year until death. Reproduction occurs between April and September, but the period of greatest activity, ‘the rut’, occurs in May and June in Britain.

Males attempt to woo females in lengthy encounters that involve much circling and rhythmic snorting and puffing. The commotion can attract rival males to the scene and courtship can thus be interrupted as interlopers are confronted and rival males square up to one another; head-butting and chases are not uncommon.  So don’t worry if you hear quite the racket coming from the garden, it could be hedgehogs!

How do hedgehogs mate? (It’s not a joke!)

The actual process of mating is a predictably delicate operation, with the female having to adopt a special body position with her spines flattened as the male mounts from behind. Radio-tracking studies have shown hedgehogs to be promiscuous with both males and females often having several different mates in a single season.

Breeding hedgehogs, photo by Steve Burke from Dorset

Breeding hedgehogs, photo by Steve Burke from Dorset

Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets

Hedgehogs give birth in June and July, and they have an average litter size of four or five young. They usually wean two or three are usually young successfully. The mother is liable to desert or even eat the young if she is disturbed. Young hedgehogs will leave the nest when they are around three to four weeks old to go on foraging trips with their mother. After around ten days of foraging with their mother the young will wander off on their own.

Mother and young by Hedgehog Champion Paula Youngman

Females are capable of having a second litter in late September or October but these young are unlikely to survive the winter. In Britain it is thought unlikely that female hedgehogs ever manage to successfully rear two litters in a season as the young from the second litter are unable to put on enough weight to survive hibernation. These late litters can lead to ‘autumn orphans’ still foraging around well into winter sometimes in the day time and often looking underweight.