You can find wild hedgehogs in the gardens and wilderness of countries such as the UK.
However, you won’t catch sight of these little critters during the day, as hedgehogs are nocturnal. This means all of their activity takes place at nighttime, just as you’re starting to wind down for the day.
In this article, we’ll be discussing why hedgehogs are nocturnal, how they’re adapted for low light situations, and how to respect your new pet’s circadian rhythm.
What is nocturnality?
Nocturnality is a type of animal behavior characterized by being active during the night and sleeping during the day.
Nocturnal creatures are used to hunting in the dark, and as a result they generally have highly developed senses of hearing, smell, and specially-adapted eyesight.
How hedgehogs are adapted for the dark
Many hedgehog experts and enthusiasts agree that hedgehog senses are adapted to work best at night.
That said, hedgehog activity is not so much determined by the hour of the day, but also by the level of light. Your pet may be active either at dawn or dusk – the point is that hedgehogs are active when light is low or even pitch black.
Hedgehogs have limited eyesight so their other senses are sharper to compensate for this weakness.
How to adapt your hedgehog’s environment
One of the best ways to see what your hedgehog is up to is to install a red or black night-light. Nocturnal creatures can’t see these, but these lights allow us to observe them.
However, while hedgehogs are night creatures and love the dark, it’s a misconception that they need to be kept in total darkness.
Just like us, hedgehogs need daylight to maintain their circadian rhythms so they should NOT be kept in a dark room, closet, or some place without a day and night cycle.
Caring for a nocturnal creature
It’s absolutely essential to respect your hedgehog’s nocturnal habits. They’re going to be just waking up as you’re having dinner or getting ready for bed, so you’ll only have a couple of hours of overlapping time – unless you’re also a nocturnal creature!
It can be tempting to want to encourage your hedgehog to play and be active during the day, but this isn’t a good idea. After all, you wouldn’t like it if someone did that to you!
Hedgehogs will usually peak in energy late at night while you’re sleeping. This is when they’ll be getting most of their exercise and causing havoc in their enclosure.
For this reason, it’s not a good idea to have your hedgehog’s cage in your bedroom, as it can get pretty noisy when they’re running on their exercise wheel! You should also ensure that your hedgehog’s wheel doesn’t have a wire bottom, as this design can lead to fractured limbs.
These exercise opportunities are really important for hedgehogs, as those that are kept as pets are often overweight due to lack of activity. Vets recommend allowing your hedgehog time outside of their enclosure to explore or swim while supervised for a few hours each week.
However, bear in mind that hedgehog’s activity is more related to light rather than to the time of day. So unless you’re awake when it’s very dark or when light is minimal, you may be surprised by how much your hedgehog will sleep at night.
How to interact with your hedgehog
Hedgehogs are very solitary animals and prefer to live alone. In the wild, they are only social during the breeding season. Due to their solitary nature, it can take a while for your hedgehog to warm up to you, so don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t happen right away.
With time and patience, you can earn your pet’s trust. Hedgehogs will usually get used to handling earlier on if you obtain them from a breeder at a young age, though this isn’t always the case.
Hedgehogs like their alone time, and just like any new pet, they need time to settle into their new home. This is why it’s important to give your hedgehog a few “hands-off” days while they’re getting used to their enclosure.
Once they’ve settled in, you can start doing some handling at night when your hedgehog is awake.
The main focus of these early handling sessions should be for your hedgehog to get used to the scent of your hands. Be gentle and slow when handling them, as they can bite when startled!
Is a hedgehog for me?
Hedgehogs are timid and sensitive creatures, so it makes sense that they prefer to come out at night when the world is generally much more calm and quiet.
These creatures are often afraid of new things, such as strange smells or sounds. However, at night time, human noise, movement, and distraction are minimal, so your hedgehog will feel far more comfortable exploring.
The best way to know whether keeping a hedgehog is for you is to think about how similar you are to one.
For example, some people who consider themselves ‘night owls’ and prefer to stay up late love having a hedgehog because these creatures are also awake at night.
Hedgehogs make for adorable, fascinating, and loveable pets, but it’s extremely important to respect their nocturnal habits. While you might want to spend as much time with your new pet as possible, respect its routine and avoid disturbing its sleep during the day.
Hedgehogs will be at their most active when most people are asleep, and for this reason, they’re not suitable for everyone. If however, you’re somebody who also enjoys staying up late, a hedgehog could be the perfect pet for you.