Baby Hedgehog

Reading Time: 14 mins

1. They are as small as a bumblebee at birth

One look at baby hedgehogs and you're bound to go, "Aww!". But what exactly gives these little creatures their unique, irresistible charm? Let's paint a picture together, shall we? You may be more familiar with them as hoglets, their official name. When they're born, these tiny creatures are almost as small as a bumblebee or a human thumb, barely an inch or so.


2. Their Spines are White from Birth

They're not the prickly little creatures we associate with the name "hedgehog" just yet. Their quills, or spines, are present at birth but are hidden beneath a protective layer of fluid-filled skin to safeguard the mother during birth. In about a day or two, this protective layer starts to dry up, and the hoglets' quills begin to poke through, transforming these little balls of cuteness into the spiky creatures we know. These spines are their signature feature – a built-in suit of armor, if you will. Initially white, they can change color as the hoglet grows, based on their genetics.



3. Baby Hedgehogs Born Blind and Deaf

They arrive into this world after about 35 days of gestation, and usually, there are four to six siblings in each litter. They come in a range of colors too, from snowy white to jet black and many shades in between, but that's a story for another day. Interestingly, hoglets are born without sight or hearing and are totally dependent on their moms for the first few weeks.

But don't be fooled by their initial helplessness. Within a few weeks, they start to explore, their tiny, button-like noses always on the move, sniffing out the world. The hoglets' eyes open around 14 days after birth and they start hearing around the same time. Their soft spines harden and become the spiky shield we all know and love.



4. The Surprising Defense of Baby Hedgehogs

Ever played hide-and-seek and wished you could just disappear into a ball and become invisible to whoever's seeking? Well, baby hedgehogs have taken this game of hide-and-seek to a whole new level with their defensive technique. The moment they sense fear or threat, they roll into a tight little ball, transforming themselves into a spiky sphere that’s more off-putting than appetizing to their predators.

Picture this, the soft underbelly, tiny legs, and cute little head all tucked away safely, leaving only an intimidating shell of sharp quills in their place. This is the hedgehog's equivalent of pulling the drawbridge up and retreating behind a fortress wall. If their predators were to take a brave swipe or bite at them, they'd be rewarded with a mouthful of painful prickles - talk about a taste that bites back!

What's even more amazing about this is that this instinctive behaviour isn't learned from observing their parents or siblings, it's hard-wired into them from birth. You can imagine it as a built-in security alarm that goes off as soon as danger is perceived, triggering the little hoglet to instinctively curl up. 



5. Camouflage with a Frothy Saliva

Now, imagine this for a second. A little hedgehog comes across a new smell in its environment, say, a flower it hasn't sniffed before. It gets a bit curious, as little explorers often do. It takes a lick, and suddenly, it's like a switch has been flicked on. The hoglet starts to produce loads of frothy saliva, bending itself into pretzel-like shapes to slather this saliva all over its spiky back. Sounds like something out of a cartoon, doesn't it? But it's one hundred percent real and one hundred percent hedgehog!

Scientists are still scratching their heads a bit as to why exactly hedgehogs do this. The camouflage theory is one of the more popular ones. It's like the hoglets are trying to blend in with their environment not by changing color, but by changing scent. Imagine being a predator trying to sniff out a hedgehog only to be confused by the smell of flowers instead. 

Another theory suggests this behavior might be a form of self-defense. The saliva mixed with the new scent might create an unpleasant taste for any predator that gets a bit too close, making them think twice about having a hedgehog for dinner.

Or, and this is a wild thought, perhaps it's their way of 'trying on' a new scent, much like we humans would sample a new perfume or cologne. We all want to smell good, right? Maybe hedgehogs are no different!



6. Hibernation is Risky for Baby Hedgehogs

When it comes to baby hedgehogs, hibernation can carry certain risks. In the wild, hedgehogs usually hibernate during colder months when food is scarce, from late October through to April, depending on the climate. They roll into a tight ball, slow down their metabolism, and enter a state of torpor to conserve energy. But, this is not the case for baby hedgehogs born late in the season or those under care as pets. 

A late-season baby hedgehog, in the wild, often doesn't have enough time to build up the necessary body fat to survive hibernation. The process of hibernation demands substantial energy reserves as their body temperature, heart rate, and metabolism drops significantly. A hoglet entering hibernation without enough reserves is at risk of not making it through winter. 



7. Can Baby Hedgehogs be kept as Pets?

In general, yes, baby hedgehogs can be kept as pets, but they're not the kind of pets you can simply pick up and cuddle without a second thought. Their care requires time, patience, and a fair bit of knowledge about their dietary and environmental needs. They're not as straightforward to care for as dogs or cats.

Firstly, the legality of owning a hedgehog can vary depending on where you live. Some areas have strict regulations around exotic pets, which can include hedgehogs. For example, they're illegal to own as pets in some U.S. states, including California and Georgia. So, it's essential to check your local regulations first.

Next, hedgehogs have special needs. Their diet primarily consists of insects, fruits, and vegetables, so you'll need to ensure you can provide a balanced diet. They also need a warm and quiet environment. Too much noise or a chill can stress them out.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means they're most active at night. If you're a light sleeper or prefer a pet that's awake during the day, a hedgehog might not be the best fit. They also require exercise and mental stimulation, which can be provided by allowing them room to explore and offering toys for them to play with.



8. Domestic Feeding Conditions for Baby Hedgehogs

Start by selecting a spacious cage. The cage should be at least 4ft long and 2ft wide. Wire cages are discouraged because tiny hedgehog feet can get caught in them. An ideal choice would be a cage with solid walls and a smooth floor, like a large plastic tub. Baby hedgehogs need a warm environment. The cage should be kept at a steady temperature between 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a colder region, consider getting a heat lamp or pad to maintain this temperature.

When it comes to bedding, fabric liners or paper-based bedding are recommended. Wood shavings, especially cedar, can cause respiratory problems. The bedding should be spot-cleaned daily and completely replaced every week. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and like to have a safe, cozy place to sleep during the day. Provide a hideout, like a small box or igloo-style house, where your hoglet can retreat to for some quiet time.

To keep your baby hedgehog physically active and mentally stimulated, add some toys and an exercise wheel to the cage. Ensure that the wheel has a solid surface to prevent their small legs from getting stuck. Avoid toys with holes or gaps where a hedgehog could get trapped. Provide a shallow dish for food and a drip bottle for water. Ensure that the food dish is sturdy enough that it can't be tipped over.



9. What Do Baby Hedgehogs Eat?

For baby hedgehogs, their dietary journey is quite an interesting one. Let's delve into their culinary world, shall we? From the moment they are born, hoglets rely on their mother's milk. Rich in essential nutrients like proteins and fats, mother's milk is their super-food for the first few weeks.

As they grow older, their dietary spectrum begins to widen. At around four weeks old, their mother starts introducing them to solid food. It's like their first step into culinary adulthood. They start off with easily digestible foods like soft-bodied insects and worms, as their teeth and digestive systems are still developing.

Protein forms a crucial part of their diet. Baby hedgehogs need a high protein diet to support their growth, and what's a better source than insects? These tiny creatures are a protein powerhouse. Some mothers might also bring small pieces of cooked chicken or turkey, which are excellent sources of lean protein. Fruits and vegetables might make an occasional appearance in their diet, adding a little variety to their protein-rich meals. 

Calcium is another important nutrient for these growing babies. It helps strengthen their bones and quills. Insects provide a natural source of calcium but sometimes, it might not be enough. Many hedgehog caretakers add a calcium supplement to their diet to ensure they're getting the right amount.



10. Other Physical Characteristics of Baby Hedgehogs

A hoglet's face is something straight out of a children's book. Imagine a small, button-like snout at the end of a tapered head, all designed for maximum sniffing efficiency. Their tiny mouths hide a secret – they're born with "milk teeth" that fall out after a few weeks to make way for adult ones. And their eyes? Well, they stay shut for the first two weeks or so, keeping them safely tucked away until they're ready to take in the sights of their world.

Then there's their petite, cylindrical bodies, perfectly designed for scuttling through underbrush and squeezing into tight spots. On the underside, their bellies are covered with soft fur, contrasting beautifully with the business-end of their quill-covered backs.

Last but not least, let's not forget those tiny legs and feet, well-suited for both scurrying around and digging. Even their toes play a role, helping them grasp their food as they munch away!


11. Fascinating Facts About Baby Hedgehogs

So, buckle up and get ready to dive into the charming world of baby hedgehogs. Here are some awe-inspiring facts about these prickly little wonders.

Hedgehogs, even the babies, lead solitary lives. Once weaned, they begin to venture out on their own. Hedgehogs are solitary creatures by nature, usually coming together just for the purpose of mating.

Don't be fooled by their small size and round bodies. Baby hedgehogs can run surprisingly fast when they need to, reaching speeds of up to 4 mph. 

Much like their parents, baby hedgehogs are nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. It's during these dark hours that they explore, hunt for food, and engage in their unique self-anointing behavior.

They feast on a variety of insects, including pests like slugs, beetles, caterpillars, and worms. By keeping these populations under control, hoglets contribute to maintaining a balanced ecosystem and assist in natural pest control.

In terms of habitat, hedgehogs often prefer environments with plenty of ground cover to hide from predators and hunt for food. Their preference for leaf litter, shrubs, and hedgerows encourages these habitats' conservation. 

Never disturb a mother hedgehog and her newborn babies. This can stress the mother, leading to her abandoning the babies or, in extreme cases, harming them.

Proper nutrition is paramount for the growth and development of hoglets. Imbalances can lead to conditions like metabolic bone disease, resulting from a lack of calcium and vitamin D. Symptoms might include difficulty in walking, soft or deformed quills, and lethargy.

If a baby hedgehog curls up into a ball or starts hissing when you handle it, this is a sign of stress. Put them back in their safe space and give them time to calm down.

For pet hedgehogs, including babies, hibernation is not necessary and often discouraged.

Overfeeding can lead to obesity, a common health issue in captive hedgehogs.

Baby hedgehogs can live up to 5-7 years.

The females, or sows, are quite picky when it comes to choosing their mates. They prefer the strongest and healthiest males, also known as boars, to ensure the survival of their offspring.

Hedgehog Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS)  is a degenerative disease affecting the nervous system, causing a loss of coordination and muscle weakness. Although it's more common in adult hedgehogs, hoglets can also be susceptible.

Hedgehogs are known for their unique hibernation habit. When they burrow into the ground for their long winter sleep, they aerate the soil, improving its health and fertility. This helps plants grow better and contributes to a healthier environment overall.

Baby hedgehogs have a keen sense of smell, which they use more than their vision to explore their surroundings and find food.

One of the most well-known behaviors of hedgehogs is their ability to roll up into a ball, hiding their bodies and exposing their spines. This is a defense mechanism that even baby hedgehogs are born with. When they sense danger, they can curl up tight, presenting a prickly barrier to would-be predators.

Baby hedgehogs born late in the year have to quickly prepare for hibernation. They need to eat enough to build up their fat reserves to survive their first winter sleep.

This might sound a bit strange, but it's true. When baby hedgehogs encounter new smells or tastes, they produce frothy saliva, which they spread over their spines in a process called 'self-anointing'. Scientists believe this might be a way for them to camouflage their scent from predators.

While it's crucial to support a baby hedgehog, refrain from holding them too tightly. This can cause them distress and possible injury.

Baby hedgehogs come into the world without their characteristic spikes and are born blind. Their quills, or spines, start to emerge within a few hours after birth, providing them with their signature defense mechanism.

Ringworm, a type of fungal infection, can affect hedgehogs, causing hair loss and crusty, ring-like lesions on the skin.

Limit your interaction time. Too much handling can stress them out. Remember, they are nocturnal, so they need plenty of undisturbed rest during the day.


12. Myths about Baby Hedgehogs

Myth 1: Baby hedgehogs can shoot their quills.
The reality is quite the opposite; the quills of a hedgehog are firmly attached to their skin and cannot be shot out or easily removed. However, when threatened, a hedgehog will raise its quills, making it harder for predators to bite or touch them without getting pricked.

Myth 2: Hedgehogs love milk
Many people believe that leaving out a bowl of milk for a hedgehog is a kind act, but this is a dangerous misconception. In reality, hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, and consuming milk can lead to serious digestive problems. 

Myth 3: Hedgehogs carry fleas
Another common myth is that hedgehogs are flea-ridden creatures. While it's possible for a hedgehog to carry parasites, they do not typically have the same species of fleas that infest dogs or cats. The occurrence of fleas is usually the exception rather than the rule.

Myth 4: Hedgehogs make great pets for everyone
Hedgehogs can make great pets, but they're not suitable for everyone. They have specific care needs and can be quite shy, requiring patience and regular handling to build trust. 

Myth 5: Hedgehogs are related to porcupines
Although they share similar defense mechanisms, hedgehogs and porcupines are not closely related. Hedgehogs are more closely related to shrews, while porcupines belong to the rodent family.

Myth 6: All hedgehogs hibernate
Not all species of hedgehogs hibernate. Whether a hedgehog hibernates or not is dependent on their species and geographical location. Domesticated hedgehogs, particularly, do not hibernate.

Myth 7: Hedgehogs eat through their bellies
An old wives' tale suggests that hedgehogs roll on apples to impale them on their spines and then eat them by "chewing" with their belly skin. This is pure folklore; hedgehogs eat with their mouths like any other mammal.


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