Hedgehogs have achieved international fame, and sometimes infamy, as adorable, unique mammals with bumbling, almost playful mannerisms.
Unfortunately, they are also immensely destructive pests in some places and are invasive ecological marauders in others.
Public outcry against harming the little things, no matter how much damage they do, makes dealing with them difficult for authorities.
However you feel about them, there is no denying that their dense coat of sharp spines makes for an obvious defense mechanism. Are hedgehogs dangerous?
No, hedgehogs are not dangerous to humans. They have very weak teeth and jaws, and their diet consists mainly of insects, so they are not equipped to do any serious damage to people. However, their quills can puncture the skin and cause pain if handled roughly.
Compared to porcupines, hedgehogs are runners-up in the spiked menace category of mammals, and though some species have been domesticated these are still wild animals that must be treated with caution and respect. Learn more about hedgehog interactions with humans in the rest of this article.
Understanding Hedgehog Behavior
Hedgehogs are commonly believed to be rodents but this is an error: they actually belong to the family Erinaceidae and are more closely related to moles than to rats or mice. As a result, their behavior is quite different from that of rodents.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures that sleep during the day in nests that they build out of leaves, grass, and other materials.
They are also commonly discovered resting beneath porches, in sheds, under rocks, and in other secluded places.
At night they forage for food, which consists mainly of insects, snails, slugs, and earthworms. They are also known to eat small reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, as well as fruits and vegetables.
In captivity, they can be fed commercially-prepared hedgehog food, cat food, or dog food.
During the winter months, hedgehogs enter into a state of torpor (a type of light hibernation) during which their body temperature and heart rate decrease significantly, though not all hedgehogs will hibernate depending on conditions and available resources.
When the hedgehog feels threatened, its muscles contract and stiffen as the animal curls tightly into a prickly ball. The hedgehog will remain in this state until it feels it is safe to come out.
With their face tucked underneath and their sharp spines pointing outwards, this behavior protects them from most predators, though not quite all. Badgers, weasels, and birds of prey are their most successful killers.
Are Hedgehogs Aggressive Toward Humans?
No, not at all. It is not inconceivable that a hedgehog could attack a human to defend its young or itself if it felt it had no other option, but this is an extremely rare behavior.
Have Hedgehogs Ever Attacked Humans?
Yes, but recorded attacks are all anecdotal. Hedgehogs favor a vigorous but passive defense in the form of their spines, assuming they cannot escape. Some species are known to ram predators that come too close, but this poses almost no threat to a human.
How Do Hedgehogs Attack?
Hedgehogs don’t so much attack as they do present their spines and hope the predator leaves them alone, or else hurt themselves trying to get the hedgehog.
These spines are actually hollow hairs that have been modified by keratin growth…
This generally works, as the hedgehog’s spines are quite sharp and capable of puncturing skin. However, they do have sharp teeth and could possibly inflict a bite if handled.
Will Hedgehog Quills Stick in You?
No. Unlike porcupines, hedgehogs’ quills are not barbed, don’t detach (unless the animal is injured or sick), and will not become stuck in your skin. They can, however, puncture skin as they are sharply tapering and thin.
Are Hedgehog Quills Toxic?
No, though there is evidence that some hedgehogs might try to equip their spines with toxic qualities. This is done through a process known as anointing.
When a hedgehog comes across a new scent, it will often lick and bite the object before rubbing its quills in the substance.
This behavior is thought to serve two purposes: to acquire the scent of the environment or to coat the quills with the substance that the hedgehog has just discovered.
This might be for camouflage or for better defense, as some of the substances hedgehogs have been known to use include poisonous plants and chemicals.
Accordingly, it is not impossible that you could get a toxic jab from a hedgehog!
What Causes Hedgehog Aggression?
The only instances likely to provoke true aggression in most hedgehog species are handling them or coming too close to a mother with young.
Other than that, expect them to retreat or curl into a ball and wait it out. Do keep in mind that hedgehogs are still wild animals, and like all wild animals may prove to be unpredictable!
Do Hedgehogs Eat People?
No, hedgehogs don’t eat people.
Are Hedgehogs Territorial?
Not really. Some mothers may try to shoo away males since males have a propensity for killing newborns, particularly newborn males.
How Strong is a Hedgehog?
Not strong at all. Hedgehogs are not known for strength or for speed and have little in the way of physical prowess to rely on when confronted.
What Should You Do if You See a Hedgehog?
Nothing, unless you are trying to eliminate them. A hedgehog won’t bother you if you don’t bother it, and even if you do bother it it is unlikely to bother you! Just give it some space and enjoy watching one of nature’s cutest and most interesting creatures from a respectable distance.
What Should You Do if Attacked by a Hedgehog?
In the nearly inconceivable circumstance that you are attacked by a hedgehog, you should only need to try and escape a brisk pace.
They are not particularly fast, so you should be able to outrun them if necessary. They also don’t have much endurance or instinct for pursuit, so it should not give much chase.
If, however, the hedgehog persists in attacking you it can be dispatched with a good stomp or sharp blow from almost any object. Try not to smash it with your hand: the quills will inflict serious harm!
Do Hedgehogs Carry Diseases People Can Catch?
Yes, and some of them are fairly nasty. Hedgehogs are known for carrying ringworm, salmonella, foot-and-mouth disease, and other diseases that can be passed to humans.
It is best not to handle them or allow them in your home if you can help it.
Hedgehogs are also hosting typical mammalian parasites like fleas, mites, and ticks which can transmit diseases of their own. Some, like Lyme disease, are truly horrible.
However, the presence of these parasites is common in most wild animals and not unique to hedgehogs.
If you are forced to handle a hedgehog or hedgehog corpse, take care to wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
If you are bitten or injured by its quills it is better to be safe and consult with a doctor to prevent any bad onset of disease.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.