Hedgehog Evolution And Origin (Where Did They Come From?)

The hedgehog has become an internet sensation in recent years, especially since the trend of owning a pygmy hedgehog caught on, but it is a small mammal with a long and interesting history.

The evolution of hedgehogs dates back more than 15 million years, and there are 17 different hedgehog species in the world. Today, hedgehogs exist in the wild in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand, where it has been introduced into the wild, and it is held as a pet in many other parts of the world, including North America and Japan.

In this article, we are going to dig deeper into where hedgehogs come from originally, and what the hedgehog population currently looks like across the globe.

What Is a Hedgehog?

Hedgehogs belong to the family Erinaceidae and the subfamily Erinaceinae, and while some are only aware of the “regular” hedgehog and the much smaller pygmy hedgehog – there are actually 17 different species, with the Erinaceus europaeus being commonly known.

As small as they may be, hedgehogs are insectivores and feed on slugs, beetles, millipedes, earwigs, earthworms, and other insects, but hedgehogs in captivity also eat hedgehogs food which can be found in pet stores. Hedgehogs should not be fed dog or cat food, as they have very different nutritional requirements.

Their spines are their trademark, and these mammals are nocturnal and roll up in a ball if sensing danger, as a way to protect themselves. Hibernation is a possibility for all wild hedgehogs, but not all do.

Why Are They Called Hedgehogs?

First, let’s start with the name. The name comes from the animal’s behavior, wherein their search for food they would crawl around under hedges, making grunting noises that sound almost like a quieter version of hogs. That, and their pig-like snout. Hedgehogs.

History and Evolution of the Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are one of the oldest species to still exist, and they have been walking the earth for over 15 million years. They were around already when long-extinct animals like the saber-tooth tiger existed, but unlike them – the hedgehog still exists.

Interestingly, the hedgehog hasn’t changed much since those early days, even though it is believed that it was originally not as nocturnal as it is now. The skeleton of a hedgehog gives away how long it has been around, as the skeleton itself looks like it belongs to a different time.

It is hard to say why the hedgehog didn’t evolve the way other species did, but it may have something to do with its ability to survive long winters through hibernation, and the protection from predators its spines offer.

Where Does the Hedgehog Originate From?

It is not known exactly where the hedgehog originates from, but it is found natively in, for example, Africa, parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. It was introduced to England and New Zealand a very long time ago, and a very large population can now be found in both places. 

In fact, they are considered a threat to wildlife in both New Zealand and England, which is a risk you take whenever introducing a new species somewhere. We are going to get into this a bit more below, while also having a look at what the hedgehog population looks like in specific parts of the world.

It comes as a surprise to many people that the hedgehog does not exist all over the world, as we are so used to seeing them on TV and read about them in books. 

Hedgehogs Around the World

To better understand what the hedgehog population looks like today, we are going to have a look at where hedgehogs can be found, if it is native to that country or if it was introduced, and whether it is legal to keep it as a pet in countries around the world.

Some countries and continents have wild hedgehogs living their lives peacefully and as part of the ecosystem, while others have had the animal introduced and added to the fauna. The hedgehog isn’t always considered a good addition to the country’s wildlife, due to being a very invasive species.

Hedgehogs in North America

There are no known hedgehog species native to North America (Canada, the United States, and Mexico) at this point in time. A species called Amphechinus was once found within these territories, but it is now extinct. 

Fossils of hedgehogs, such as the world’s absolute smallest hedgehog (2 inches long) were found on Canadian territory. This speaks for there having been hedgehogs native to the continent in the past. In some parts of Canada, the European hedgehog is considered illegal, and this applies specifically to the Quebec area.

Ontario has other rules, and they do not allow hedgehogs to be kept as pets at all. It is important to look up these rules before you consider importing or purchasing one if you happen to live in Canada.

In the US, the only hedgehog you are likely to come across is the African Pygmy Hedgehogs, and these are domesticated animals people keep as pets. The increased interest in keeping hedgehogs as pets is causing some concern in situations where they could potentially be released into the wild.

Mexico does not have native, wild hedgehogs either, but you can find pet hedgehogs throughout the country. It is surprisingly easy to obtain a pygmy hedgehog in Mexico, and many people keep them as pets similar to a hamster or a guinea pig.

Hedgehogs in Japan

Now, Japan does not have native hedgehogs either, but it is a very popular pet. In fact, there is a hedgehog-themed café located in Tokyo, where tourists (and natives) can go have a coffee surrounded by these spiked little fellows!

These are not hedgehogs taken from the wild but pygmy hedgehogs bred in captivity. The hedgehog is native to some other parts of Asia, but not to Japan, and it is considered a very invasive species that could cause significant trouble if released into the wild.

Hedgehogs in New Zealand

It was the UK that introduced hedgehogs to New Zealand in 1870, and the population quickly grew! They can now be found all over the country, and they are considered to propose a serious threat to other species native to New Zealand. Per hectare, it is estimated that there are between two and four hedgehogs.

The problem with the hedgehog is that it eats eggs, small birds, rare insects, and anything it can come across, which disrupts the natural fauna found in New Zealand. As adorable as they are, many people consider them to be a pest and a serious problem.

Conclusion

The hedgehog is an ancient species that has been around for a very long time, and it has barely changed since then, based on what scientists have been able to find. It is an animal that appears frequently in books and movies – especially those written for kids.

It is a mammal that exists in many parts of the world today. It is native to parts of Europe, central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and was later introduced to England and New Zealand.

Hedgehogs are a great example of why it is so important to respect the wildlife already existing in a country and to be very careful when potentially introducing a new type of animal. Hedgehogs are adorable and many vouch for them to be great pets, but in the wild, they can be troublemakers.

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