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The Gaelic for hedgehog is Grainneog, or 'Horrible
One'. Hedgehogs are not horrible at all, of course -
they are, in point of fact, lovely - but they are certainly
mysterious animals, little studied and widely mis-
understood. Here is a selection of the not-very-much
known about them.
Humans (and not only those who live in caravans)
have always eaten the 'hedge-pig' or furze pig. It
is a free source of white meat thats relatively
easy to catch. One account, published in 1699,
recounts how the moors of West Barbary went
about it: "The hedgehog is a princely dish among
them, and before they kill him they rub his back
against the ground by holding its feet betwixt
two, as men do a saw that saws stone, till it has
done squeaking; then they cut its throat, and
with a knife cut of all its spines and singe it. They
take out its guts, stuff the body with some rice,
sweet herbs, garavancas, spice, and onions;
they put some butter and garavancas into the
water they stew it in, and let it stew in a little pot,
close stopped, till it is enough, and it proves an
mystery of all
must surely be
- what on earth
are they doing
They are rarely seen in
December and have no
with the Christian
nativity story, or
with any other
they're there simply
because they're lovely.
And not horrible.
... due to the baffling belief that they stole milk from
cows. Boys were encouraged to present severed
hedgehog-heads to church wardens for a bounty of
fourpence each; the rest of the animal could be
eaten. One historian has estimated that from 1560 to
1800, 14,000 hogs a year died this way. Horrible!
(Mind you, 15,000 are killed on the roads each
Everyone knows that hedgehogs
hibernate in winter, but they dont actually
If there's food available,
they'll stay active.
New Zealand hedgehogs
dont hibernate at all
and in Britain hibernation
is becoming shorter
(and rarer) because
of mild winters.
the killing heat
by aestivating -
that is, hibernating
during the summer.
Between 1566 and 1853,
hedgehogs were legally
classed as vermin...
If a hedgehog is attacked, the first
thing it'll do is frown. Its frowning
muscle - the panniculus carno-
sus - runs all the way from its
forehead to its tailbone. This
contracts in 0,01 of a
second, pulling its whole
body in an almost
impregnable ball. Rolling
up completely is something
hedgehogs dont often do.
More usually, they just tuck
their heads in and hunch their
prickles over to protect their faces.
At the Rocky Mountain Hedgehog Show in Denver,
Colorado, quiet, calm hedgehogs tend to win the prizes.
Sadly, the quieter the hog, the more likely it is to suffer
from Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, which is similar to
Multiple Sclerosis in humans.
By selecting hogs that behave
well for the show judges,
pet owners have unwittingly
created a population
unique prone to
this fatal and
African Pygmy hedgehogs are the only
kind known in the USA, and then only
as pets. At the international hedgehog
Olympic Games, spectators practice
"silent cheering" - waving their hands
in the air by way of applause - so as
not to startle the competitors.
...instead of rolling up. Hedgehog expert Pat
Morris has shown that it is quite pointless a
running hog is mathematically more likely than a
stationary one to come under a vehicle's wheels.
Another myth is that hedgehogs are evolving to run
away from cars...
A persistent myth about
hedgehogs is that if you
remove their fleas, they'll
die. In truth, they'll
probably won't notice -
they're indifferent to even
the heaviest infestations.
Since hedgehog fleas
cannot live on humans,
cats, dogs or any other
species, there seems no
reason to inconvenience
either the hedgehogs or
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Hedgehogs need open spaces to feed
in. The Golden Age of the hedgehog
in Britain began with the coming of
the Romans - who first used hedges
to divide fields - and lasted till after
the Second World War, when
intensive farming ripped hedges out
to increase field sizes.