New research finds that hedgehogs have adapted to European city living quite well, thank you very much.
Humans have a pretty persistent habit of paving over nature to create cities. And while that’s a good thing for humans, it’s not such a good thing for the animals that do better in, say, trees rather than skyscrapers.
But some animals adapt. And surprisingly, among that list, is the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) – even more surprising is that hedgehogs seem to prefer city living to rural life.
Given that there are more hedgehogs in urban areas than in bucolic settings, researchers at the University of Hamburg, Germany wanted to explore what city life was like for the animals in order to help better protect them. They fitted free-ranging hedgehogs in Hamburg with temperature-sensitive transmitters to learn what physiological factors make the little guys and gals tick in the city.
"These specialised transmitters allowed us to monitor hibernation patterns and nest site use in winter, as well as activity and home range size in summer," says lead researcher Dr. Lisa Warnecke.
The areas of the study included a variety of urban environments, from major roads to quiet side streets and compared the data to those of their country cousins.
What they discovered is that the city hedgehogs are surprisingly flexible.
"We found that urban hedgehogs had much smaller nightly ranging areas than their rural counterparts – 5 hectares versus 50 [roughly 12 acres versus 120] – and that they adjusted their activity to levels of human disturbance," says Warnecke.
So where did they go? During the day they mainly lingered in private gardens, but around midnight – when humans and pets have mostly retired for the day – they headed to local parks to forage and look for mates! Of course! The imagination runs wild; Beatrix Potter meets the Summer of Love.
Another surprising find is that city hedgehogs have similar hibernation patterns to their country cousins.
"We were surprised to find that city hedgehogs showed hibernation patterns very similar to rural or captive populations in terms of the depth of torpor, the frequency with which they rewarmed and the overall duration of their hibernation. This was despite city hedgehogs often nesting next to busy roads and having potential food sources available throughout winter – such as food scraps or cat food on private terraces."
The researchers note that because of this, it’s important that the urban cuties have access to green areas, whether private gardens or public parks, with enough cover for them to remain undisturbed for hibernation season.
"Gardens and public parks are very important for city hedgehogs," says Warnecke. "They need gardens with natural vegetation and public parks less immaculately pruned, with plenty of natural, bushy areas."
City denizens are also advised to stay away from nesting hedgehogs during hibernation season and to be wary of garden items that could cause harm, like plant netting, garden tools and rodent poison during the rest of the year. And in the meantime, delight in the knowledge that the humble hedgehog is thriving ... and getting busy in the park while the rest of us are fast asleep.