East African Hedgehog


ORDER: Erinaceomorpha

FAMILY: Erinaceidae

GENUS: Atelerix

SPECIES: albiventris

DESCRIPTION:
The East African Hedgehog can be distinguished from all other species of hedgehogs because it lacks a hallux (1st toe) and thus has only 4 toes on the hind foot. It also is smaller than the European hedgehog. They are covered dorsally with a uniform coat of spines (modified hairs)which have alternate light and dark color rings. Cream colored fur surrounds the face and covers the ventral surface and flanks. Ears are broad and roundish.

GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Savanna and semi-arid zones of the northern half of Africa from Senegal to Somalia and Tanzania. There is localized distribution in that range, possibly because of the importance of the microhabitat, e.g. they cannot live in damp areas.

DIET:
Omnivorous. They eat insects and other small invertebrates, small vertebrates, carrion, and some vegetation. Hedgehogs are very resistant to insect toxins, chemical poisons, and snake venom.

LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
African hedgehogs are solitary, avoiding other hedgehogs, and have an attachment to a very small home range. Courtship is an extended ritual. Breeding seasons have not been noted in East Africa. Two to ten young may be born after 30-40 days gestation. The newborn have an edematous skin covering their spines to protect the mother during birth. The young are weaned in 40 days. These hedgehogs disappear during the dry season and probably estivate. Life span is 8 years.

SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS:
Hedgehogs, as a group, are the most successful and widespread modern survivors of this very ancient lineage. Spiny armor is the main reason for their survival. The ability to curl up involves minor skeletal modifications- short blunt vertebral processes, small thorax, and wide pelvis - and the unique circular skin muscle called the orbicularis panniculi. When that muscle contracts, it forms a bag into which the animal withdraws and simultaneously causes the obliquely set spines to become erect. Both European and African hedgehogs react to strongly scented unfamiliar objects. They use a saliva marking behavior called self-anointing in which the animal salivates copiously and plasters the froth over its sides and back.

INTERPRETIVE INFORMATION:
Spines protect a hedgehog from predators and also cushion the animal if it drops out of a tree. (They like to climb.) They are nocturnal animals. They can recognize colors and have a very acute auditory sense, but the olfactory sense is most important.

OUR ANIMALS:
4 females. *These animals are used in our Education Zoomobile program and are not viewable by the public.

STATUS IN WILD:
Not listed as endangered. These hedgehogs are the favorite prey of the Verreaux Eagle Owl and the local people use their skin or spines as fertility charms.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Kingdon, Jonathan. 1974. East African Mammals, Vol IIA, University of Chicago Press.
  2. Grzimek, Bernhard. 1972. Grzimek Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, New York, pp. 203-218.
  3. Reeve, Nigel. 1994. Hedgehogs, University Press, Cambridge, England.

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