Covered in sharp quills that stand up on end, there’s no denying that hedgehogs can look scary in the wild. But are hedgehogs spiky to hold? And is it safe to cuddle up to them as a pet?
Hedgehogs are spiky because their body is covered with between 5,000 and 7,000 spikes or quills. Hedgehogs have the ability to use their muscles to control these spikes. When they feel threatened, the spikes will stand on end to make them as sharp and spiky as possible.
Initially, it might be hard to understand how a hedgehog could be a good pet. Especially when they’re covered in spikes that look dangerous. But now you know that these spines are not spiky, certainly to the human touch, perhaps it time to consider a hedgehog as a pet?
Can Hedgehog Spikes Hurt You?
Although the spikes of a hedgehog can look intimidating and it would be easy to assume they’d be dangerous, they are actually unlikely to cause any harm to you.
One of the reasons people assume hedgehog spikes would hurt is because people incorrectly believe hedgehogs are related to porcupines that do have dangerous and harmful quills. Unlikely porcupines, the spines of a hedgehog are not barbed.
Additionally, hedgehog spines do not contain any poison or venom. They are simply a defence mechanism for hedgehogs to use in the wild to make it uncomfortable for predators to grab them.
What Happens if a Hedgehog Pricks You?
If a hedgehog pricks you, not a lot will happen. It’s rare that a hedgehog spine would be strong enough to penetrate through human skin. If it does manage to break the skin, then it will feel much like getting pricked by a bramble or rose bush.
It will be a little uncomfortable but is highly unlikely to cause any major pain or long term damage.
If a hedgehog has pricked you and broken the skin, then it is always a good idea to wash your hand thoroughly with an antibacterial soap. There is a very little risk of a hedgehog passing disease onto humans but it’s also best to err on the side of caution.
What are Hedgehogs Spikes?
The correct term to use for the spikes on the back of a hedgehog is not spike or quill. They are actually referred to as spines. These spines on the back of a hedgehog are hollow hairs.
These spines are stiffened with keratin, the same chemical found in human hair, nails and skin as well as the horns of some animals.
The spikes on a hedgehog back can be controlled through its muscles. When they feel threatened, they can tense their muscles to force the spikes to stand on end. When hedgehogs and their muscles are relaxed, the spines will lay flat.
Are Hedgehogs Born with Spikes?
Unlike many animals, baby hedgehogs are fully formed just on a smaller scale. Hedgehogs are born with spikes. However, to prevent injuring their mother during birth, their skin swells up over the spikes. This soft skin is loaded with a liquid substance.
During the first day or so of their lives, this swelling disappears to reveal their spines.
These spikes are slightly different to the sharper, stiffer spines of an adult hedgehog. They are noticeably smoother and more like coarse human hair. On a baby hedgehog, the spines will often be entirely white compared to an adult hedgehog that will have a combination of white and dark spines.
The other major difference is the number of spines. Baby hedgehogs will only have 150 or so spines compared to a fully developed hedgehog that will have up to 7,000 spikes over their back. A baby hedgehog will usually lose these younger spines as they become replaced by adult spines.
Why Do Hedgehogs Have Spikes?
The sole reason for a hedgehog having spikes is to protect them in the wild from predators. If a predator tried to grab a hedgehog, it will roll into a tight ball to cover its entire body in spikes. These spikes will become rigid and stand up on end making it challenging for a predator to get hold of the hedgehog.
The spikes are not used to actively harm other animals or other hedgehogs nor do they need these spikes to hunt for food – which, in the wild, usually consists of snails and slugs.
Can Hedgehogs Shoot Spikes?
There is a further misconception that hedgehogs can shoot their quills like other quilled animals (porcupines also do not shoot quills). The spines on the back and sides of a hedgehog are solely there to make it painful for a predator to grab them using their mouths.
Hedgehogs will roll into a ball to ensure their entire body is covered in spines that stand on end. They cannot shoot these quills nor can they detach them when a predator bites them.
Generally speaking, hedgehogs are not spiky for humans to hold. Provided that the hedgehog feels relaxed, the spines on their back will lay flat.
When a hedgehog feels threatened, it will make its quills stand up on end to make them as sharp and spiky as possible.