Asia, Europe, and Africa (and introduced in New Zealand)


Forest, desert, savanna, scrubland, and suburban gardens

A pincushion with legs

The hedgehog is a short and stout little mammal that is sometimes called a pincushion with legs! Most mammals have fur or hair that is somewhat flexible and soft. But the hair on the back of a hedgehog is a thick layer of spikes (or modified hairs) known as quills. These quills are made of keratin, the same stuff our hair and fingernails are made of.

A closer look

Hedgehogs can be white or light brown to black, with several shades found in bands along their quills. Their belly, face, and neck are covered in coarse hair. Some hedgehogs have a dark brown or black mask across their eyes. These interesting critters have small but powerful legs and big feet with five toes each. The exception is the four-toed hedgehog that has—you guessed it!—four toes. Curved claws make hedgehogs amazing diggers. A long snout with a wet nose gives them an excellent sense of smell. Their ears are large compared to body size, giving the spiky little creatures a good sense of hearing.

Hedgehogs can travel up to 2 miles (3 kilometers) a day and move at a speed of up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) per second.
When a desert hedgehog wants to eat a scorpion, it must first bite the stinger off the tail. Some hedgehog species can even eat venomous snakes.
The desert hedgehog favors temperatures from 104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 42 degrees Celsius).
Hedgehogs are active at night—but sleep all day, up to 18 hours!
The hedgehog makes lots of foamy saliva in its mouth and smears it over its quills. It may do this to keep parasites off the skin or to make its quills taste bad to predators.

A pair of European hedgehogs first arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1946. Donated by the London Zoo, they mesmerized Zoo guests. Today, the Zoo has four-toed African hedgehogs serving as animal ambassadors. Guests get to touch their sharp quills and learn more about these unusual critters.

Although not currently listed as threatened or endangered, many hedgehog species face challenges. Hugh’s hedgehog Mesechinus hughi (also known as the Shaanxi hedgehog) is a native of China. It is on the decline as people use them for food and medicine. The Daurian hedgehog Mesechinus dauuricus has lost habitat in much of China, Mongolia, and Russia as people increase mining activities, graze livestock, and set out poison to kill local rodents. The Indian hedgehog Paraechinus micropus, found in India and Pakistan, is losing some of its range as farms expand into its desert habitat. The Madras hedgehog Paraechinus nudiventris of southern India suffers habitat loss due to the collection of wood for fuel, farmland increases, and the quick growth of cities.

Still, the good news is that most hedgehog species have stable populations and are not at great risk. Yet hedgehogs will need our help someday. More research should be done on these amazing little mammals. The more we know about them, the better we can protect them.

You can help us bring hedgehogs and other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.