Atelerix frontalissouthern African hedgehog

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Geographic Range

Atelerix frontalis, one of four African species of hedgehogs, occurs in two geographically separated populations within Africa. One population occurs in western Zimbabwe and eastern Botswana to the Cape Province in South Africa. The other population exists between south-western Angola and northern Namibia. (Wilson and Reeder, 1993)

Habitat

South African hedgehogs are found in a wide variety of habitats. They can be found in grasslands, scrub, rocky areas, savannah, and suburban gardens. They rarely occur in deserts or in very wet areas. One requirement for good habitat is that there must be dry cover available. Hedgehogs use this cover to rest and rear their young. Also, the dry cover should be close to available food. South African hedgehogs are also found frequently in suburban gardens. (van Wyk, 2002)

Physical Description

South African hedgehogs have a body covered with small spines, except for their belly, face and ears, which have a fine fur covering them. The unmistakable identifying mark on this hedgehog is a white band across the forehead which can extend over the shoulders or behind the arms to the throat and breast. Head spines are not parted. The spines are mainly white at the base and have a central dark brown to black band around the tip. The band varies in width, which can give the animal a darker or lighter appearance. The face, limbs, and tail are covered with dark brown or grayish brown hair, and the underside can vary in color from white to black. The ears and tail are fairly short, and the snout is pointed. These animals have five toes on each front and hind paw. The legs are fairly long. The average length of the body, including the head, is 20 centimeters, and the tail is approximately two-centimeters. Weight can range from 150 to 555 grams. Females have two pairs of nipples on the chest and one pair of nipples on the abdomen, with some reports of females having more than 6 nipples. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    150 to 555 g
    5.29 to 19.56 oz
  • Range length
    15 to 20 cm
    5.91 to 7.87 in

Reproduction

South African hedgehogs are monogamous. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980)

Courtship in hedgehogs can last for days. Males court a female by walking circles around her. She will continuously reject him for days until she is ready to mate. After mating, the male releases a gum-like paste into the vagina. This paste acts like a copulatory plug, and it ensures that his sperm will fertilize the female's eggs, thus ensuring that his genes will be passed to future generations. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980; Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002)

Gestation lasts for approximately 35 days. Litters are born in October through March. The number of young can vary from 1 to 10, although litter sizes of four and five are more typical. The young will suckle the mother until they are able to eat solid food. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980; Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002)

The weight of the newborn is about 10 g. At birth, these hedgehogs are blind and naked, with tiny spines just underneath the skin. These spines will be replaced within four to six weeks. The young open their eyes after 14 days, and within one month the babies resemble small adults. They then are weaned and begin foraging with the mother at about 6 weeks of age. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980; Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002)

After about 6 weeks, the mother starts to drive the young from the nest and encourages them to disperse. The young will breed the following year. These hedgehogs reach sexual maturity in about 61 to 68 days after birth. Adult female hedgehogs can reproduce several times oer year. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980; Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002)

  • Breeding interval
    These animals can breed once to several times per year.
  • Breeding season
    The bulk of breeding occurs from August to February.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 10
  • Average number of offspring
    4
  • Average number of offspring
    5.4
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    30 to 40 days
  • Range weaning age
    35 to 48 days
  • Average weaning age
    40 days
  • Range time to independence
    45 to 60 days
  • Average time to independence
    55 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    365 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Males do not participate in any parental care. Females nurse the young and protect them until they are able to fend for themselves. Hedgehogs are helpless at birth, but develop quickly. (Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

In the wild, the life span is approximately three years and hedgehogs can live up to seven years in captivity. The shorter life span in the wild is due to pesticide spraying by farmers, predation by humans and other natural predators, being a popular species for the exotic pet trade, and vehicle hazards. (van Wyk, 2002; Wrobel and Brown, 1997)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    7 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    6 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    7 years

Behavior

South African hedgehogs are a solitary and mostly nocturnal species. In spite of their basically solitary nature, they can be found foraging in pairs and a mother can be found with her young. These animals tend to be more active at dawn and dusk, if the weather is cool enough they may be active during the daytime. Seasonally, hedgehogs are more active in the summer months, then they begin to build up fat reserves for the colder periods when they enter torpor. In the spring when they are waking from torpor and begin to venture out of their nests, they move quite slowly. (Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002; Wrobel and Brown, 1997)

Behaviors between two hedgehogs include snuffling, snorting, and growling, and they may butt each other's heads while fighting. Courtship is an extended ritual that lasts for days. A males courts a female by walking circles around her and extending his snout to her. The female rejects him for a few days. As night be expected from the physical description of these spine covered animals, the actual act of mating is somewhat tricky. When a female is ready to mate, she will relax her spines and stretch her hindlegs until her genitals are exposed. This allows the male to safely mount her and copulate. (Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002; Wrobel and Brown, 1997)

Hedgehogs defend themselves when threatened by rolling into a ball. This covers the face, belly, and legs from a threat, leaving an armor of spines to face the enemy. This is done when the hedgehog feels threatened or is disturbed. (Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002; Wrobel and Brown, 1997)

Atelerix frontalis practices a self-anointing process. This process is triggered by new scents and is described as frothing at the mouth after chewing or licking the object with the new scent, after which the animal spreads the froth onto its own spines. There is no current explanation for this behavior. (Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002; Wrobel and Brown, 1997)

South African hedgehogs tend to move slowly, but they can run as fast as six to seven kilometers per hour. They are somewhat docile in captivity, and are thought by some to make interesting pets. (Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002; Wrobel and Brown, 1997)

Home Range

In general for the genus, the home range sizes averages a radius of 200 to 300 meters around an inhabited hole. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980)

Communication and Perception

South African hedgehogs are predominately a solitary species so there is not a lot of social communication. Hedgehogs snort and growl in excitement and make a weak twittering sound when uneasy or in strange surroundings. Spitting and hissing is a reaction of a strange animal in the territory. A male will chatter and snort while courting a female or fighting with another male. A female will snort when courted. Hedgehogs have a very high-pitched alarm call similar to a scream. Vision is poor with limited color, but they have extremely good sense of hearing and smell. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980; Kingdon, 1974; van Wyk, 2002)

Food Habits

Hedgehogs will eat just about anything but they are primarily insectivores. They feed on a wide variety of foods such as beetles, termites, grasshoppers, moths, earthworms, centipedes, and millipedes. They will also consume carrion, vegetable matter, fungi, frogs, lizards, bird eggs and chicks, and small mice when available. A hedgehog can consume up to 30% of its own body weight in one night. (van Wyk, 2002)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • fungus

Predation

Details on predation in this species are lacking. Many carnivores and birds of prey are able to kill and eat hedgehogs. Domestic dogs also kill hedgehogs. Hedgehogs can protect themselves by rolling up into a spiny ball. (Kingdon, 1974; Nowak, 1995)

Ecosystem Roles

Not a lot of information was available detailing the role of A. frontalis in its ecosystem. These hedgehogs provide a source of food to those animals that do eat them, although, given their sharp spines, hedgehogs are not a main souce of food for any particular animal. Hedgehogs compete with other large insectivores for resources, which may force one of the two to leave an area. This competition may influence the distribution of hedgehogs. Also, through their foraging behavior, these animals may affect populations of invertebrates and small vertebrates. (Kingdon, 1974)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

South African hedgehogs may actually be benefiting from the increase of urban gardening and in turn may benefit humans by eating garden pests. African natives harvest this hedgehog to use as food and in traditional rituals; it is believed that smoke from burning spines and dried meat will keep evil spirits away, and also that the fat will cure earaches in children. This species is popular as a pet. (Nowak, 1995; van Wyk, 2002; Wrobel and Brown, 1997)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

It is unlikely that this species has any negative effects on humans.

Conservation Status

Atelerix frontalis was on Appendix II of CITES and was designated as rare in South Africa. However, the species is no longer listed on CITES. Major threats to populations of these animals are their popularity in the pet trade, desireability as food, and loss of their habitat due to the increase of agriculture. (Nowak, 1995)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Wendy King (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor, instructor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Ethiopian

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

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

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

drug

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease

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.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

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

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Haltenorth, T., H. Diller. 1980. The Collins Field Guide to the Mammals of Africa including Madagascar. Lexington Massachusetts USA: The Stephen Greene Press Inc.

Kingdon, J. 1974. East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa. New York New York USA: Academic Press Inc.

Nowak, R. 1995. "African Hedgehogs" (On-line). Walker's Mammals of the World Online. Accessed October 29, 2002 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/insectivora/insectivora.erinaceidae.atelerix.html.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World. Washington D.C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Wrobel, D., S. Brown. 1997. The Hedgehog. New York New York USA: Howell Book House.

van Wyk, J. 2002. "Under Seige: Timid South African hedgehogs face many threats" (On-line ). African Wildlife: Your voice for conservation. Accessed 11/01/02 at http://wildnetafrica.co.za/wildlifearticles/africanwildlife/1998/mayjune_undersiege.html.