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28 October 2014

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Mammal of the month
Is there a hedgehog in your garden?
If you nose about under your hedges on a wet evening, you might just catch sight of a hedgehog - before he takes to his bed for a long, long sleep.

Now that's a good way to spend the winter....
  see also  
  Planet Cambridgeshire

BBC Life of Mammals
BBC Wildfacts
BBC Nature - Nature Near You
  internet links  
  The Mammal Society

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November is hedgehog month

How will I know if I'm looking at a hedgehog?
Hmm, tough one this, but if you're still a bit confused, the hedgehog is Britain's only spiny mammal. The upper parts of the head and body are covered in short, yellow-tipped spines - adults may have up to 5000 of them. The rest of the body is covered with brown fur, and the hedgehog has a short tail. Ah, sweet!

Hedgehogs are about 15-30cm long and weigh about 1.5-2 kg. That's like a really prickly bag of sugar.

Snuffling hedgehog

Where should I look for a hedgehog?
Hedgehogs like forests, hedgerows, scrub and cultivated land, and they are commonly found in gardens. They are most active at night after heavy rainfall.

What do they like to eat?
Hedgehogs eat slugs, snails, beetles and earthworms. They also sometimes feed on eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. If you want to feed wild hedgehogs, try them on pet foods, baby foods, milk substitutes and goats milk. You can use ordinary cow's milk if you dilute it at least 50/50 with water - but only for wild hedgehogs with access to other foods, not for captive ones.

What are their habits?

In summer, hedgehogs shelter during the day in temporary nests of leaves, moss and grass.

Female hedgehogs have litters of 4-5 young, usually born between April and September. Males do not assist in rearing them. Young hedgehogs need to weigh at least 1lb, or they will not be fat enough to last the winter.

By autumn, hedgehogs have dramatically put on weight in preparation for their hibernation. Their hibernation nests are typically situated under hedgerows. They hibernate until the following March or April, during which time their body temperature and heart beat fall dramatically, from 190 to about 20 beats per minute. Most hedgehog deaths occur during this hibernation period.

Hedgehogs have very poor eyesight, but their sense of smell and hearing are very good, and they can swim and climb well. Their dense covering of spines offers protection when the animal is disturbed, rolling up in a tight ball covering the head and soft underside.

Five things you never knew about the humble hedgehog:
  • Hedgehog crisps are not flavoured with real hedgehog.
  • Contrary to popular belief, you should not feed hedgehogs milk. Vodka is also not a good idea.
  • Although hedgehogs are good swimmers, they have not yet been accepted in the Olympics. Very sad, that.
  • Hedgehogs can roll up into a tight ball, but you must not try to use them in a game of tennis. Or cricket.
  • Mrs Tiggywinkle is the most famous fictional hedgehog. That's because there aren't any others.

You can find out more about Britain's mammals at BBC Wildfacts or BBC Life of Mammals or The Mammal Society.

The Mammal Society's Winter Monitoring Project is also looking for volunteers. It wants to know more about the future of different species. People who take part will be asked visit areas near to their homes to monitor mammal activity and look for any signs of mammals, like footprints or droppings. The Society - the only group dedicated to the study and conservation of all British mammals - says the initiative will help it learn more about different species in the UK, and provide important information about the state of the British countryside.

Get more information from The Mammal Society website or by ringing 020 7498 4358.

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