Let’s start with the biggest misconception: hedgehogs are not porcupines, nor are they related. Though the two are often confused, there are very little similarities between them. Porcupines are rodents, and have long, detachable, barbed quills. Hedgehog quills are not made for “dropping” when afraid, and they don’t have a formidable tail they can swipe at their predator. A hedgie’s main defense is rolling into a prickly ball and hissing until the danger is passed.
Pet African hedgehogs are not “pygmy” as they are often incorrectly called. The term “pygmy” implies that they are miniature, which they are not. Our pets are exactly the size they are supposed to be and have always been. The name African Pygmy Hedgehog was coined because of the size comparison between our pets and their wild European cousins. Sixteen species of hedgehogs can be found wild in Africa, Europe, and Asia. There are no hedgies native to North America, South America, Antarctica or Australia.
Pet Hedgehog Taxonomy
Species: A. albiventris
Hedgies were classified as insectivores before the order Insectivora was split in two, putting hedgehogs in the new Erinaceomorpha order. Naturally, the majority of their diet consists of a variety of bugs. For millions of years, they also scavenged on carrion, other small mammals and birds (mainly unprotected young), eggs, and small amounts of vegetation. In captivity most hedgies are given a diet that doesn’t replicate this exactly, but the difference in longevity and health shows that it’s still an improvement.
An odd fact about hedgehogs is that in some parts of Africa they are considered a fertility charm. Wild hedgehogs are often buried with seeds or plants. Sometimes just a quill necklace is believed to help the wearer conceive a child. Hedgies have some unique anatomical traits that startle many new owners, but none are cause for alarm. The first would be the “reverse mohawk”. Hedgehogs have a bald strip in the middle of their head, an inch or so back. This hairless, quill-less section of your hedgie’s head enables him to cross his visor quills and is a part of the ring of muscles that allows him to ball up when afraid.
Another thing that often concerns new owners is the “hedgie lump”. This is a small, pimple-sized bump on a hedgie’s chin. It usually has a few hairs on it. If you were to compare it to anything, it somewhat resembles a billy goat’s beard. Both male and females have this lump. Any other lumps on a hedgehog’s jaw are not normal however and should be looked at by a veterinarian immediately.
The last physical oddity would be the variation between the numbers of toes on the front feet. While it appears all pet hedgies have four toes on each back foot, some have dewclaws on the front feet and some do not. The average lifespan of a hedgehog is 3-5 years, with most falling towards the younger side of the spectrum. Often these hedgies could have lived longer if they had been cared for differently or received proper veterinary care.
Unfortunately they are quite prone to cancer and in many cases it is not removable. There are many that have recovered from cancer and lived years longer, however.
Hedgehogs and Children
Hedgehogs are not the best pet for kids. Young children usually quickly lose interest after the novelty wears off, or are put off by the animal’s quills or nocturnal lifestyle. Older kids and teens will often change interests, as well as schedules and may decide later on that they can’t or don’t want to care for the hedgie for its whole life. As a mature adult, is your responsibility to be sure that any pet you bring into your home will be well cared for as long as he lives.
Additionally, hedgehogs do not make good class or office pets. Along with never being awake for anyone to see them, hedgehogs are easily stressed and it would be cruel to subject them to such a stressful, fluctuating environment.
Heating, light schedules, power outages, or lack of attention (or too much attention) are only a few huge reasons to choose a different, more suitable species if you must have an animal in the workplace.
Hedgehogs are very scent oriented and rely on their sense of smell for many things. When bonding with your hedgie, it is important that he can smell you and associate your scent with safety. Using gloves, or even washing your hands with a different soap can confuse and possibly scare him. Leather gloves are never a good idea because they usually smell intimidating and will mask your scent.
Where Our Pets Came From
Pet hedgies in North America (and around the world) all originate from two African species: The four-toed hedgehog and the Algerian hedgehog. In the 1980’s and 90’s, about 80,000 wild African hedgehogs were imported into the United States and Canada.
Importation was cut off in 1994 after the USDA placed strict quarantines on imported animals. The original reason for bringing these hedgehogs into the United States was mainly for exotic pets, but also for blood clot research.
Believe it or not, the four-toed hedgies are somewhat viewed as pests in Africa. They are frequently found in dumps, earning them a reputation similar to wild rats here in the US. In fact, that’s where the majority of the imported hedgies came from. Children were paid around fifty cents to collect the animals from the dumps. When they reached America, they were sold for hundreds or more a piece.
A breeding pair could be upward of several thousand dollars! As captive breeding began and the fad started to die off, they lowered in price to the current “normal” of $150.00 – $250.00 USD.