Known for their unique physical attributes, hedgehogs are a curious type of animal due to their ability to be simultaneously friendly and intimidating. This is achieved mostly by the spines that surround their body, allowing them to be protected from any unknown intruders. When they sense a predator coming, the animal will curl up into a ball, extending its spines outward as a shield. This naturally quick reflex helps the animal blend into its surroundings, harm other animals that try to harm it, and subsequently stay alive in the wild.
Hedgehogs are also quite rare to see in the wild, only sometimes due to their rather small size and quick speed. You’re also not likely to see them in domesticated situations as they are not a widely popular pet.
Because of these conditions, humans don’t actually know much about hedgehogs. They’re not as iconic as other animals and —other than being seen somewhat in videogames — not many people are familiar with their lifestyle or what they even look like.
This lack of public knowledge makes many also wonder: What do hedgehogs actually eat?
In this article, we’re going to be answering this question, informing you of all the unique ways in which hedgehogs maintain their diet. However, to do so, we’ll have to go into the details about the overall health of hedgehogs, where they exist in the wild, and whether or not their diets change based on their location.
So, without further ado, let’s get right into it:
What Do Hedgehogs Eat? The Hedgehogs’ Diet
The diet of hedgehogs largely centers around foraging — this is actually how they got their name, as they are mostly known to forage through hedges and similar forms of roots to find small beings to snack on. Though hedgehogs are mainly insectivores (only consuming insects that they find through foraging), they will also eat some forms of meat when their normal foods are not easily available.
For most hedgehogs, the types of small animals that they feast on varies, but mostly consist of different types of insects, such as worms, centipedes, and ants. Other animals included in their general diet includes mice, frogs, snakes, and even snails.
After combining the hedge association with their tendency to grunt like pigs while burrowing, the name hedgehog was born.
The first thing that hedgehogs rely on when looking for something to eat is their senses of smell and hearing. This is because hedgehogs are typically creatures with lower quality eyesight despite their nature of being nocturnal animals with eyes developed for the night. By relying on their senses of smell and hearing, though, hedgehogs have grown those senses into being even more powerful. Because of their sense of smell being heightened, hedgehogs can also taste remarkably clear, often having an increased sense of taste as well.
However, to truly understand the ways in which hedgehogs eat, it is important to know the two different ways that they exist in society. You see, for many, hedgehogs are animals that are specifically found in the wild, but this isn’t always the case. Many people keep hedgehogs as pets, giving another dimension to the animal’s diet that centers around their domestic lifestyle.
With hedgehogs not being required to forage for their food, their diet naturally becomes different—because of this, we will be splitting up our analysis of the diets of hedgehogs into what they eat in the wild, and what they eat when domesticated.
Hedgehogs in the Wild
When hedgehogs are in the wild, their diet largely stays in line with what we have written about their general diet. Feeding mainly on insects, hedgehogs will largely feast on any small animal that is contained beneath the surface of a hedge. The most common animals that they eat are typically beetles, slugs, caterpillars, millipedes, earwigs, and worms.
Depending on which season it is, hedgehogs will focus on specific members of the aforementioned categories. This is due to the seasons in which the insects are common, during which they become more accessible for hedgehogs. For example, worms are insects that hedgehogs can eat year-round, but slugs and caterpillars are available only from September to April. In the same manner, Carabids, Scarabs, and Earwigs are available from the summer through the fall, but not in the winter or spring.
A misconception surrounding the diets of wild hedgehogs is their supposed slug consumption. Though hedgehogs are able to eat a wide variety of animals, they don’t eat as many slugs as you might think. In fact, types of snails and slugs only comprise 5% of a hedgehog’s diet!
It should be noted that hedgehogs can live in many different types of climates, but this does not have a huge effect on their overall nutritional diet. The only way in which it can change is if the climate requires the aforementioned frequency of certain insects to appear or not, but—like we noted—this does not affect the amount of nutrition hedgehogs eat.
Many of the same elements that hedgehogs need to survive are found in all of these animals, making any of them a healthy dietary choice.
If there is a lack of availability with food, hedgehogs will eat other things in their environments, such as fruits and bird eggs. However, it should be noted that hedgehogs that are consuming fruits and vegetables are not relying on them for sustenance. This is worth noting because many who own gardens are worried that hedgehogs are having their diets messed up by relying on them, but this is not the case. In fact, there have been studies suggesting hedgehogs are not relying on homegrown vegetables and fruits, instead using them as convenient supplements to their normal diet, when accessible.
Hedgehogs at Home?
(Note: because the nature of a hedgehog’s domesticated diet centers around what humans feed them, this section will be phrased like a guide to feeding a hedgehog, for easiest clarity)
Though many people will experiment with trying to feed their hedgehog something that resembles a typical diet in the wild, there are plenty of alternatives for those looking to have a financially efficient diet for their hedgehog or simply a more pragmatic one. Hedgehogs are able to adapt to the diet because they are not so specific when it comes to food—all they need is a diet that is balanced but filled with protein.
There are types of dry food that allow you to feed your hedgehog all of the nutrients it needs without having to switch between different types of food. They are not as accessible as other types of food, though. So, there are some types of hedgehog dry food, but due to the rare nature of domesticated hedgehogs, this is not available everywhere.
Because of this, many people who want to feed their hedgehog dry food will resort to feeding them dry cat food. If you go this route, we recommend you feed your hedgehog a product that is full of protein, keeping in mind that dry food should be a primary part of your hedgehog’s diet.
Like most animals, mixing dry food with moist food is a good way to give your pet a balanced diet. With hedgehogs, this is no different, as they will also be able to eat moist cat or dog food, keeping in mind that it has enough protein to satisfy their dietary requirements.
To make sure that a domesticated hedgehog has a balanced diet, feeding it fruits and vegetables is necessary. Many will start with vegetables such as corn and carrots (cooked), but it’s also possible to feed your hedgehog more adventurous foods such as beans and apples. Because hedgehogs have a very developed sense of taste, it’s possible that they will only prefer certain types of fruits and vegetables. Being able to test out different things is essential to finding the right diet.
Though hedgehogs typically get their water from nearby streams and in the environment around them, when domesticated it is important that they get their diet satisfied somehow. To do this, it’s best to include a bottle of water in their cage, allowing them to sip on it to hydrate.
Though in the wild hedgehogs can usually tell what is good or bad for them, when domesticated it is important to not feed them things that are difficult for them to eat or digest. For example, serving a hedgehog cooked carrots is perfectly alright, but raw carrots will be difficult to chew and subsequently present a choking hazard. Other types of raw, hard foods will have the same effect, such as other types of nuts and seeds.
Other foods that hedgehogs have trouble processing are stringy foods (celery) or sticky foods (such as raisins), as it is difficult to digest and can often get caught in a hedgehog’s mouth or digestive system.
Hedgehogs are also lactose intolerant, meaning that they can’t eat any foods with dairy in it. Grease is also off-limits, as greasy foods have trouble processing in their stomachs, causing severe discomfort similar to lactose intolerance.
Though hedgehogs might survive off of some foods in the wild such as eggs and meat, this does not mean that they should be fed these things to mimic their diet in the wild. This is because introducing both of these foods into a hedgehog’s diet increase their risk of developing salmonella, which can potentially be fatal.
Like any animal, hedgehogs do like to stray from their normal diet to have some treats. It’s worth noting, though, that these treats aren’t things you would feed other animals you might have as pets. For example, you should avoid giving your hedgehog sweet treats, as those can disrupt their digestion. Instead, feeding hedgehogs insects and cooked meats such as chicken, beef, and even eggs can be a way to reward them with a nice treat.
In order to understand the diet of hedgehogs, it’s important to contextualize their lives and environments. To give you more information on the unique animals, here is a list of some Frequently Asked Questions:
What time do hedgehogs usually forage? Hedgehogs are known as nocturnal animals, so they’re known to forage during the night. This is also why humans don’t see hedgehogs that often, as they’re getting rest during the day.
Where do hedgehogs sleep? To be out of the sight of daytime animals, hedgehogs make their own hidden nests that rest under bushes and shrubbery. This helps them not only be able to get some good rest that is away from the sun, but also ensure that their sleep isn’t interrupted by predators or other animals!
Are hedgehogs ever active during the day? Yes; despite being largely nocturnal creatures, some hedgehogs will go out during the daytime to find food. The best time to do this is typically after rainfall, with many hedgehogs finding a great deal of food after this because of irrigation bringing insects to more localized areas.
Do hedgehogs always sustain on their own? No; the foraging aspect of hedgehogs that we’ve spoken about in this article is largely attributed to adult hedgehogs. There are newborn hedgehogs, but they are often not able to forage for themselves until after they are a month old. During the period before they are able to gather their own food, newborn hedgehogs are typically suckled by their mother until being taken out for their first foraging experience.
It should be noted, though, that being suckled by their mother for 4 weeks does not only relate to food. Newborn hedgehogs are also born blind, so it’s important for them to be guided by their mother until they’re able to see for themselves.
Are there other ways that hedgehogs protect themselves from predators? Other than curling up into a ball and extending their spines out, hedgehogs have another technique to stay safe from predators. Because the animals are immune to certain plants that would be poisonous for other beings, hedgehogs will consume them to create a froth that pours out at the mouth. After creating this foam, the animals can then distribute it to their spines, making them poisonous to anyone who approaches them. If a predator still tries to attack the hedgehog after this, they will be in for an unpleasant surprise! It also hides their scent so other animals aren’t able to smell them from a distance!
What is the lifespan of hedgehogs? Hedgehogs typically live for about 7 years.
What does a hedgehog family consist of? The idea of families in the hedgehog experience is much different than what we consider them to be. Typically after conceiving their child, the male hedgehog leaves the female, taking no part in the actual raising of the children.
Though the mother does the entirety of raising the kids, this portion is even short compared to what you might expect. After bringing the newborn hedgehogs on their first foraging trip after 4 weeks, the mother leaves them, separating the family forever. This forces the young hedgehogs to immediately develop their hunting skills, making their life depend on it. For some, this is useful, but because of this, many hedgehogs born in the fall do not survive their first winter.
Do hedgehogs hibernate? Sort of—some species of hedgehog hibernate, but it depends on where they are located. For example, European hedgehogs will often hibernate during the winter, but specific weather and climate changes can affect the duration of the hibernation.
Do hedgehogs feed on berries? While berries are not a staple for most hedgehogs, berries constitute a major part of an Afghan hedgehogs’ diet in early spring.
How many different species of hedgehog are there? There are 15 different species existing in many places all around the world, believe it or not!
Hello everybody! This is French, the author behind the animal article you have just stumbled upon. Writing about critters of various sizes and shapes has been a wonderful experience so far! With a Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife: Conservation and Management from Humboldt State University, I have been passionate about using my degree to teach others about animals. In fact, education is among the most important ways that we can save future wildlife. These articles are a way to help others relate to these animals, thus raising awareness. If you have any questions about biology, wildlife, botany, or any other science, feel free to ask!