Help the hedgehog during the winter
Here a hedgehog cub is eating a tough Spanish slug. It will be one of its last meals before it hibernates.
Photo: Grøn Kommunikation
Hedgehogs demand neither a view of the sea or forest when picking their winter accommodation. A compost heap or a wooden pallet are perfect homes for the little animal, that in these days is loafing around to find accommodation for the winter.
A hedgehog nest can simply be a dry space under a wooden pallet, or a small box turned upside down.
A wooden pallet with a compost heap on top is a perfect home for hedgehogs. The hedgehog should be able to enter under the compost. Make a sign which says, “hedgehog nest”, so you in spring won’t forget that there might be a hedgehog when you stick a fork or spade in the compost heap. You should also check piles of branches for sleeping hedgehogs before setting them on fire.
By leaving weed, branches and withered leaves in some of the more distant areas and shady corners of the garden, you create good living conditions for snails, worms, sowbugs and other creepy-crawlies that hedgehogs eat.
There must be water in the garden, so the hedgehog has access to something to drink. You can leave water for hedgehogs in a bowl or in a low birdbath. If you have a deep garden pond, it is a good idea to put in a piece of wood as a ramp if the hedgehog falls in the water.
If you want a more sophisticated hedgehog nest that you can use year after year, you can buy one in many nurseries and garden centres.
Facts about hedgehogs
Erinaceidae is the family of hedgehogs and it is the oldest family of mammals on earth. We know that there for at least 15 million years ago were hedgehogs that look like the ones we have today. The hedgehog is therefore good at surviving and adapting to its surroundings.
The hedgehog can roll into a needle pillow with approximately 6000 spines. The spines are hair that has transformed into needle-sharp defence weapons.
The hedgehog is a crepuscular and nocturnal animal that sleeps 5-6 months during the winter without eating! Through the entire summer and autumn, the hedgehog has eaten a lot and built up a thick layer of fat. The hedgehog can survive from that from November when it hibernates until April when it wakes up again.
Winter sleep is no regular sleep. The hedgehog has to save energy if the layer of fat should last the entire winter. Consequently, the hedgehog lowers its body temperature, so it is just above the temperature outside, as long as there is no frost. When there is frost outside the hedgehog keeps its body temperature at 2-4 degrees.
In hibernation, its heart beats very slowly, only 6-15 times per minute. The hedgehog does almost not breathe when in hibernation. Sometimes it can hold its breath for more than an hour. Then it exhales and inhales for 4 minutes to then hold its breath for one more hour.
It happens that hedgehogs wake up from their winter sleep and walk around a bit, but typically they lay down and go to sleep again.
The hedgehog sleeps through the entire winter, which only a few other mammals do. Examples of other mammals that sleep during the winter are bats, northern birch mice and hazel mice.
Source: “Skoven i skolen”
Om Lars Lund
Danish horticulturist and journalist
Lars Lund has for many years engaged in the garden and greenhouse. Lars has published many books about greenhouses, and he has participated in many Danish horticultural TV shows. He is a walking garden encyclopaedia, and he has answers for most basic cultivation questions – also the more ambitious ones.
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