Paraechinus aethiopicusdesert hedgehog

Last updated:

Geographic Range

This species is found widely throughout much of northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Its range extends all over the Sahara from Morocco to Egypt to Syria and Iraq.

Habitat

Paraechinus aethiopicus is well adapted to arid, drought-like conditions. It lives in hot, dry deserts but can also be found in vegetated areas of an oasis or coast.

Physical Description

Paraechinus aethiopicus carries an armament of dorsal spines from the base of its head to its rear, leaving the top of its head bald. These spines are hollow and pale brown with dark tips. The color of the ventral side and feet is a variable combination of brown, black, white, solid brown or solid white. The muzzle and mask are black with lighter bands on the forehead. Paraechinus aethiopicus is larger than the other species of hedghog that shares its region, Hemiechinus auritus, but quite similar otherwise.

  • Range mass
    400 to 700 g
    14.10 to 24.67 oz
  • Range length
    140 to 230 mm
    5.51 to 9.06 in

Reproduction

The reproductive pattern of this species is not well documented, but it is known that not all of the offspring of a litter survive to adolesence. Some die soon after birth, and it has been reported that females sometimes cannibalize their young, probably in times of food shortage.

  • Breeding season
    May to June
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 7
  • Average gestation period
    30 to 40 days
  • Average weaning age
    40 days

Deaf and blind, a young P. aethiopicus is born fairly helpless. It is born with its spines for some protection; however, during the actual birth the spines remain under the skin, which no doubt makes labor easier on the mother. The young weigh about 8 or 9 grams at birth, and their eyes open in 23-29 days. After about 40 days they begin eating solid food (in addition to mother's milk).

Lifespan/Longevity

Typically, the lifespan of a hedgehog in the wild is 3-4 years. In captivity they have been known to live as long as 10 years. The lifespan of this particular species, however, has not been documented.

Behavior

During the daytime, members of this species rest near rocks and cliffs. This allows them protection while they sleep, hiding them from birds of prey. They sleep on their sides, so their spines give them little protection while at rest. They hunt at night. Insects and other prey congregate near coastline or inland vegetation around an oasis, which is why P. aethiopicus can often be found in these areas. During prolonged periods of cold weather, these hedgehogs hibernate, waking periodically to forage for food. These periods of hibernation may be necessary as a result of the poor insulation offered by their spines.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

This species is mainly insectivorous, but it eats a variety of foods when they are available. It is not, however, thought to eat plant matter. One other interesting note is that P. aethiopicus, like other hedgehogs, has a high tolerance for snake and insect venoms, estimated to be 30 to 40 times that of a similar sized rodent. This protects them while hunting venomous or stinging prey.

Prey include: insects, small invertebrates, the eggs of ground-nesting birds, frogs, snakes and scorpions.

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Predation

The spines of this species, and other hedgehogs, are the main tool for escaping predators. It tucks its head into its ventral region and effectively rolls into a ball. This exposes only its spines to a potential predator, making it difficult to eat.

Ecosystem Roles

The role that this species plays in its desert ecosystem is not well studied.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Hedgehogs may help to control pest populations through their predation on insects and other invertebrates.

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no adverse effects of P. aethiopicus on humans.

Conservation Status

By all accounts, this species is not endangered and is, in fact, quite common in some parts of its range.

Other Comments

The phylogeny of this species has been disputed. It is sometimes classified in the genus Hemiechinus and sometimes in the genus Paraechinus. Up to five subspecies have been recognized. Hedgehogs have become a fairly common pet in North America and Europe; however, the common pet hedgehog is actually a hybrid of two other African species, not Paraechinus aethiopicus.

Contributors

Dustin Hall (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Bret Weinstein (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

References

Bates, P. "Arabia's Hedgehogs: primitive but successful" (On-line). Accessed October 9, 2001 at http;//www.arabianwildlife.com/archive/vol2.1/hedge.htm.

DVM Hammet, D. "Caring For Pet Hedgehogs" (On-line). Accessed October 11, 2001 at http://www.appspring.com/ACVC/hedgehog.htm.

DVM Johnson-Delaney, C. "Common Disorders and Care of Pet Hedgehogs" (On-line). Accessed October 11, 2001 at http://netvet.wustl.edu/species/exotic/hedgehog.htm.

Harrison, D. 1964. The Mammals of Arabia volume 1. London, England: Ernest Benn Limited.

Hayssen, V. 1993. Asdell's Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction. Ithaca, New York: Comstock Publishing Associates.

IUCN, 1995. "Eurasian Insectivores and Tree Shrews - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan" (On-line). Accessed October 9, 2001 at http://members.vienna.at/shrew/itsesAP95-erinaceidae.html.

Kock, D., C. Ebenau. 1996. The Desert Hedgehog, Paraechinus aethiopicus (Ehrinberg, 1833), New to the Fauna of Syria. Pp. 189-191 in L Giessen, K Kiel, eds. Zeitschift Fur Saugetierkunde. Stuttgart, Germany: Gustav Fischer.

Nader, I., M. Al-Safadi. 1993. The Ethiopian Hedgehog Paraechinus aethiopicus (Ehrenberg, 1833) and Brandt's Hedgehog Paraechinus hypomelas (Brandt, 1836) (Mammalia: Insectivora: Erinacidae) from Northern Yemen. Pp. 397-400 in W Prof. Dr. Buttiker, F Dr. Krupp, eds. Fauna of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development.

Nowak, R. "Walker's Mammals of the World" (On-line). Accessed October 9, 2001 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/insectivora/insectivora.erinaceidae.paraechinus.html.