Hedgehogs are rather discreet animals. However, it is not an endangered species because the populations are stable, especially since they are protected by law in all European countries. If you are lucky enough to come across one in the garden, it is difficult to resist the temptation to establish contact with it by feeding it. But did you know that a hedgehog cannot be fed anything and that certain foods are toxic to this animal?
What does the anatomy of the hedgehog tell us?
The hedgehog is classified among the insectivorous and therefore its anatomy is characteristic of this group of animals. Starting with the teeth. Adult, it has 34 to 40 teeth. Like us, he first has baby teeth which fall out around the age of 4 months. It is at one year that he has all his permanent teeth. A hedgehog bite is not painful because its teeth do not have sharp edges. Their hardness is on the other hand essential to crush the insects composing its food. But they wear out very quickly because earthworms, for example, usually have their digestive tract filled with sand. And an animal with worn teeth can no longer eat.
Its digestive tract is simple: it is made up of an esophagus, stomach and intestines measuring about 1.5 m long in adults. Digestion is rapid in the hedgehog. Almost all of the food bolus is digested within 16 hours. Studies have shown that a hedgehog can ingest up to 54g of food in one intake and up to 94g of food in total in a day.
Hedgehogs live in different environments which can be arid or humid. As soon as it feeds properly, a hedgehog can go without water, for the simple reason that an insect is made up on average of 70 to 75% water. In addition, the body of the hedgehog evacuates the water very slowly, in particular because its: it takes 4 days for the ingested water to be completely evacuated. His urine is particularly concentrated.
How does a hedgehog naturally seek food?
Feeding occupies a hedgehog 70% of its activity time, knowing that it still spends 87% of its total time resting during the day. This last percentage is an average of the activity time over the summer and winter periods, that of the 5 months of hibernation being a period during which it does not look for food. As he rests during the day, he searches for his food the night. This is also why it is not common to meet hedgehogs. And when it does, it is often that they are in distress.
It searches for food at muzzle height on the ground. It has an excellent sense of smell which makes it able to find prey buried under 3 cm of earth. Its long nose has a large wet muzzle with a highly developed mucous membrane.
Is the hedgehog omnivorous?
Despite the fact that the hedgehog is insectivorous, it is quite correct to say that it is omnivorous. But when an animal is omnivorous, does that mean it can really eat anything? This is what is suggested by this adjective constructed from two Latin terms: “omni”, which means “everything”, and “vorare”, which means “to eat”. This “everything” actually means that the hedgehog eats both plant and animal foods.
The sense of taste in the hedgehog has been studied and reveals some interesting things. It abandons the acidic and bitter flavors in favor of the sweet and salty flavors. When it comes to salt, the sodium concentrations that attract him the most are concentrations that correspond to that of salt in the blood.
The hedgehog is actually what is called a “opportunistic”: He adapts his diet to what he finds in his environment. It can eat the carcasses of rabbits and sheep. It also eats eggs, stolen from the nests of birds that nest on the ground. Hedgehogs have even been observed eating chicken eggs 6 cm long by 4 cm wide, leaving the shell behind, much to the chagrin of hen house owners. And it also consumes plants up to 12% of its total diet.
The hedgehog’s diet varies with the seasons. Earthworms are eaten more in the fall, slugs in the winter. In summer and spring, more earwigs and woodlice are consumed. Centipedes are the animals it eats the most, possibly accounting for 40% of the total diet, found in April and May then September and October. Plants are part of the diet all year round.
Are there any prohibited foods that should not be given to hedgehogs?
You will probably be surprised to learn that a hedgehog can survive a dose of arsenic that can kill 25 people. It also supports a dose of tetanus toxins 7000 times greater than that which can kill a human. Despite this, it remains sensitive to pesticides, responsible for 26% of deaths.
Without being toxic strictly speaking, there are foods that are not well tolerated by the hedgehog because they cause digestive disorders. Either the stools are too hard and prevent easy evacuation, or the transit is too fast and absorption is poor.
Of all the nutrients, fat is the best digested. Next are carbohydrates. The digestibility of dietary fibers varies according to their origin.
If you want to feed a hedgehog, don’t give it especially no milk or bread. Having an appetite for sweet and savory as we have seen above, the hedgehog will be delighted to eat them. But these two foods cause fatal diarrhea. However, diarrhea very quickly dehydrates the animal, which weakens and then dies. You will not necessarily see him because he will be gone to die later. That is why some people claim that milk and bread are not harmful because they give it every year to hedgehogs who come back year after year to the garden, simply because they do not see the corpse and that it is other hedgehogs crossing their garden.
As in many animals such as dogs, the chocolate is also to be avoided. It contains theobromine, a compound belonging to the same family as caffeine. It stimulates the central nervous system and heart muscle, and increases urine production, also promoting dehydration.
The Iceberg lettuce, which may contain salmonella, it should be avoided, as well as raw carrots, peppers, onions, garlic, corn, pineapples, grapes, citrus fruits and dried fruits, as well as the digestive system of the hedgehog can not stand. Other fruits and vegetables can only be fed to a hedgehog if it is old enough.at least 8 weeks.
Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, don’t overeat any hedgehogs you may come across. If you really like them, you better just watch them rather than give them something that might harm them.