The African pygmy hedgehog ranges from Senegal to Sudan and down to Zambia.
African pygmy hedgehogs are found in a wide variety of habitats, including grassland, scrub, savannah, and even suburban gardens. They appear to be absent from deserts, marshes, and dense forests. They are predominantly nocturnal and spend their days curled up in a ball under matted grass or leaf litter, a rocky crevice, or a hole in the ground.
African pygmy hedgehogs are omnivorous (meaning they eat both meat and plants) but mostly insectivorous (insect eater). They feed primarily on invertebrates such as spiders and insects, but will also consume small vertebrates like frogs, snakes and lizards, mice, eggs, fruit, and fungi. African pygmy hedgehogs are opportunistic feeders that show an extremely high tolerance to toxins. They have been known to eat scorpions and small poisonous snakes with no ill effects.
The average length of an African pygmy hedgehog is approximately 7-9 inches when the animal is relaxed. When rolled into the hedgehog’s characteristic defensive ball, they are about the size of a large grapefruit. The species is sexually dimorphic with the females being slightly larger than the males.
African pygmy hedgehogs are covered with approximately 30,000 sharp spines that act as an effective defense against attackers. The spines cover most of the animal’s body, but are absent from the belly region. When a hedgehog feels threatened it roles up in a little ball and erects its spines, making it impossible for a predator to attack without getting poked.
Hedgehogs have an incredible sense of olfaction (smell) that is essential for detecting meals.
African pygmy hedgehogs generally breed once or twice a year. As spontaneous ovulators and primarily solitary animals, this species mates when the conditions are right and they encounter the opposite sex. They typically mate in warm seasons, when food is plentiful, usually between October and March in southern Africa. Gestation lasts 35 days and the young are born with spines already present. The young are weaned at some point between the 4th and 6th weeks. The young leave their mother soon after they’re weaned and are sexually mature around two months of age.
The African pygmy hedgehog is a solitary animal. As a nocturnal (night active) creature, it’s constantly on the move, covering up to several miles in one night. Although they are not territorial, individuals do keep a distance from other African pygmy hedgehogs. For instance, males typically keep at least 60 feet between one another. There are a number of unique behaviors seen in this species. One is the process of self-anointing. When an animal discovers a unique taste or scent it creates frothy saliva that it spreads across its body in a series of remarkable contortions. The reason for this behavior is not fully understood. It is most likely related to either reproduction and mate selection or self-defense. Another behavior is the animal’s use of summer estivation or winter hibernation to help it survive when the temperature is not at its optimal 75-85 degrees.
African pygmy hedgehogs live approximately 2-3 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live to be 8-10 years old, mostly due to a lack of predation.
The hedgehog’s diet makes it an important part of the ecosystem and local pest control. Hedgehogs help to control the numbers of invertebrates and eat many things deemed “pests” by humans.
It is no longer legal to transport hedgehogs out of Africa, so the pet trade does not threaten their populations there.
Nichols, J. 1999. “Atelerix albiventris” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 11, 2006 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Atelerix_albiventris.html.
Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London, Johns Hopkins University Press.