When I walk around the backyard after sunset I usually get the feeling I am not alone. I often hear rustling in the bushes. Being still fairly new to NZ wildlife I was not quite sure what it could be until one night I finally caught a dark glimpse of something walking across the yard. I quickly walked back to the house, grabbed a torch, and headed back outside for further investigation (kind of like the scenes in those scary movies. You know, the ones where someone hears some dreadful noise outside and decides to investigate, alone, at night. I mean, can’t they hear that ominous music playing?). Luckily, the critter was still ambling its way across the yard and my torch illuminated a fairly large and cute hedgehog! Unfortunately, by the time I ran back into the house to grab my camera the hedgehog decided it had had enough and walked back into the bushes.
Ever since that first encounter I have wanted to capture an image of one of the hedgehogs. Well, last night I had another hedgehog encounter and managed to grab my camera in time to capture it digitally.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which explains why I usually start to see them around sunset. They are also insectivorous, so usually eat insects, but also vary their diets with quite a few other things. While hedgehogs have spines, they are unlike the quills of a porcupine in that they remain attached to the animal. The standard defense is to put their head down (the spines are only on the top of their bodies) and remain motionless, and if that doesn’t deter a predator they can also roll themselves up into a tight little ball, exposing only their spines to any would be predator. Hedgehogs are fairly benign to humans and throughout Europe folks commonly attract hedgehogs to live in their gardens to help keep insects under control.
Hedgehogs are not native to New Zealand, but were most likely brought over from Europe by early immigrants who wanted to have the critters to help out their gardens in their new home. There is still a common belief that since hedgehogs are insectivorous, that is all they eat. Unfortunately, that is not the case; in addition to insects, they have an apatite for invertebrates, some plants, and bird eggs, for example. Hedgehogs have no natural predators here in New Zealand, and so have grown to quite a large population. Also, recent evidence has pointed out that hedgehogs run a close third behind possums and stoats as predators of New Zealand birds, sometimes decimating ground nesting bird species.
“Please don’t wipe your feet/
Upon my back. Be more discrete./
For I am dressed to the nines/
With my coat of bristling spines.”