Nature

Why not a Hedgie?

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If you’re looking for a new pet to raise and take care of, why not go for a hedgehog? Despite the fact that all 17 species of these silly-looking pinecones with faces are not native to America, they’re now pretty easy to find just about anywhere in the world.

Hedgehogs are perhaps most internet-famous for how fantastically cute they look while they’re taking a bath, and the 5000 to 7000 “spines” that protrude from their backs and serve as a defence mechanism when they curl themselves into a ball. Commonly known as “quills”, these spines are what often lead people to believe that hedgehogs are somehow related to the porcupine, even though they’re really not.

A hedgehog stares at the camera in Exotic Zone Pet Shop GT in Guatemala City. Photo: Comvite

Much like that one prickly emo girl we all knew in high school, hedgehogs are also quite quirky. One of their most peculiar habits involves what people often refer to as “spit balls”. You see, because they live in burrows and are adapted to a nocturnal way of life, the hedgehog’s sight is not particularly great. This makes them rely more on their sense of smell. So, whenever they become fascinated by a new object, they nibble and lick it to get its scent, and then spit out a ball of saliva onto their bodies for no particular reason whatsoever. This is called “self-anointing” and no one’s really sure why they do it.

Another quirk of theirs is that they are great at falling down. In the wild, hedgehogs tend to climb trees as high as roughly 10 meters to look for food. If they happen to fall or jump off the tree while fleeing from a predator, they roll themselves into a ball to avoid any serious damage. Since their quills are really just hollow hairs made stiff with keratin (much like that one gelled-up-spikes hairstyle made popular thanks to boybands in the late 1990s and early 2000s), they absorb most of the impact and allow them to walk away uninjured.

A baby hedgehog in Exotic Zone Pet Shop GT in Guatemala City. Photo: Comvite

“They’re very timid, but very fun animals,” says Abner Lickes, a biology student who helps run an exotic pet store in Guatemala City. “They are quite playful and very safe to have around. They don’t really need much either.” Mr. Lickes explained that hedgehogs eat mainly cat food. However, if you want to give them a treat, you can always give them mealworms.

Hedgehogs can cost anywhere between Q.1600 and Q.1800 (212.30USD – 238.83USD), and they are very friendly with children. Mr. Lickes, however, suggested that one shouldn’t get a hedgehog for a child under 8, because they do need to be handled with certain care to avoid being hurt by their spines. So, consider a hedgehog! They’re great to have around!

CAUTION: While reporting for this article, one of the hedgehogs visited happened to perform a jack-knife dive off a table just for funsies. This reporter, concerned yet coy, resorted to his ninja-like abilities to catch the falling critter only to find out, first-hand, that their “spines” actually do hurt quite a bit when the hedgehog is rolled-up into a ball. So, if you see a falling hedgehog, just leave it be. It’ll be alright.

 

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