African hedgehogs have about 5,000 inch-long, needle-sharp spines. They are actually modified hairs, and, like hair, are shed and regrown throughout a hedgehog’s life. The quills are not barbed or poisonous, and they do not easily detach, but they do provide an excellent defense. When threatened, hedgehogs contract their stomach muscles and roll into spiky, compact balls, protecting their vulnerable faces and bellies. The spines covering their backs lift up and crisscross, creating an almost impenetrable barrier. Lions have been observed trying—and failing—to bite rolled-up hedgehogs.
African hedgehogs are generally solitary and nocturnal, relying mainly on their senses of smell and hearing. They use their strong claws to forage for food and to build nest burrows. During the warm rainy season, when food is abundant, hedgehogs gain weight. When the weather becomes cold and dry, they hibernate. They may remain inactive in a sleep-like state for up to six weeks but will emerge during warm intervals. Hedgehogs searching for food making a snuffling sound, which explains the “hog” part of their name. The “hedge” part comes from their European cousins who often forage for insects, worms, and snails near garden hedges. There are about 17 species of hedgehog.
Hedgehogs engage in a strange behavior called self-anointing. When they encounter a strange smell or taste, they use their long tongues to spread a large amount of foamy saliva over their backs and sides. This process can last as long as 20 minutes. While the precise reason for this behavior is unknown, it may clean the spines and act as an insecticide, it may change or disguise their scent, or it may play a part in courtship. Fortunately for a hedgehog mother, her babies are born with their spines just below the skin in a fluid-filled space. Within 24 hours the fluid is absorbed, and their prickly spines begin to emerge. The four to five young are weaned at about 40 days and begin to lead their solitary adult lives.
These hedgehogs are widely distributed throughout the savannas of central Africa.
These omnivores eat a variety of small invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
Body length is between seven and nine inches and weight ranges from wight to 25 ounces. Lifespan is about seven years.