With hedgehog numbers across the world rapidly on the decline, the sight of a mother and her baby hoglets out in the wild is a spectacle to behold for anyone interested in wildlife.
It not only signals the start of a new generation, it provides hope for the future of the popular species. Despite this, being a hedgehog is hazardous, with only around half of hoglets making it to adulthood.
This guide will take a look at some of the dangers for baby hedgehogs, as well as an in-depth look at the different parts of the hedgehog birthing process.
Mating Season And Ritual
Hedgehogs typically come out of hibernation in either March or April and quickly start the process of bulking up for the mating season. Mating starts in April and can last until September, with the majority of activity taking place in May and June.
The mating season is noisy business. So, if you have hedgehogs in your garden or nearby, you’ll be sure to know about it.
In terms of the courtship ritual, it’s fair to say that it isn’t the most romantic. Firstly, a male hog will find a female and start to circle around her.
The female hog will respond by giving them the cold shoulder and turning around to prevent him from approaching. She’ll also look to put the male hog off by loud grunts and snorts.
This noise will typically attract a number of other males, who’ll similarly try their luck.
If this happens, the males will tussle and jostle against one another, to try and win the approval of the female. This can go on for hours, but usually ends with either one of the hogs running away or when mating starts.
The mating itself is extremely prickly. Therefore, mating can only take place with the full cooperation of both hogs.
The female will usually lie flat to the ground arching her head and shoulders, allowing the male to safely climb on top. The male hog will then grip her shoulder blades with his teeth and use his paws to establish a better grasp.
At any time during the mating process, the female can change her position and throw the male off.
After all this, it isn’t always guaranteed to lead to pregnancy. Therefore, hedgehogs spend a lot of time mating with many different partners to be sure. In fact, a hog may have up to 10-12 different partners during the mating season.
Hedgehogs are generally solitary creatures who enjoy their own space, and mating doesn’t change this. After the activity has finished, there’s rarely any type of bond formed between the male and female. The male will go on his way and take no part in raising the litter.
Pregnancy And Birth
The period of pregnancy usually lasts around 32 days. However, it can extend quite a bit longer if the weather turns cold after the female becomes pregnant, pushing her back into hibernation.
In situations such as these, the pregnancy is effectively put on hold, and starts up again when the mother returns from her hibernation.
During pregnancy, the female hog is kept busy by building a nursery nest. This is usually pretty similar to the hibernaculum where they spend winter, but it’s a little bigger to provide enough room for the hoglets.
When the time comes to give birth, females usually produce a litter of either four or five hoglets. Bigger litters can occur, but generally, the bigger the litter, the less likely some of the hoglets are to make it to adulthood.
Newly-born hedgehogs are tiny and weigh just a single ounce. They’re born with no visible spines, just greyish skin over a layer of liquid, almost like a water blister. This skin helps to protect the mother during the birthing process, and quickly retracts as the hoglet grows.
Early Hoglet Development
Baby hedgehogs are only with their mother for around six weeks after birth. In this time they must develop from tiny and blind infants into independent, self-serving hogs.
During the first couple of hours after birth, the hoglets’ skin retracts to reveal around 100 pure white spines. The more familiar brown spines begin to grow through these white spines after a few weeks.
After starting off on their mother’s milk, baby hedgehogs begin to eat solids at around three weeks. This is also when they’ll start to get their first adult teeth.
Hoglets are born a pale pink color, but by four weeks, they’ll look just like miniature hedgehogs with dark fur, dark skin, and brown spines. This is when they’re ready to leave the nest for trips with Mum. However, it’s these first few trips which are the most perilous for young hogs.
The first year of a hedgehog’s life is filled with risk. This is reflected by the fact that only half of all hoglets make it to adulthood, with one in five not even making it out of the nest.
Listed below are five of the most common dangers that baby hedgehogs face in their first year of life.
- Insufficient milk – in a cool and dry summer, the mother may struggle to produce enough milk to feed her young if she’s unable to get sufficient food herself.
- Predators – badgers and foxes are a threat to hoglets in the wild.
- Disturbed nests – the mother may abandon a nest if it’s disturbed soon after her hoglets are born.
- Separation – if a hoglet gets separated from the mother on one of their early trips, they’ll lack the skills needed to survive on their own.
- Weight – a baby hedgehog that goes into hibernation underweight is unlikely to survive.