Paraechinus micropusIndian hedgehog

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Geographic Range

Indian hedgehogs, Paraechinus micropus, are found in the Oriental region, specifically in portions of India and Pakistan. In Pakistan these hedgehogs live in scattered local populations in the south. In India they are native to the western part of the country, including the Punjab, and are also found to the south in the Deccan region. This disjunct Deccan population may have been introduced at some time, although that is uncertain. (Nowalk, 1999; Prater, 1965; Reeve, 1994)

Habitat

Indian hedgehogs favor hot and arid environments, typically the deserts in their range. In Pakistan these hedgehogs inhabit tropical thorn forests as well as irrigated farmlands. They require sufficient vegetative cover for their prey and for use as nest lining, and are therefore unable to live in the harsher desert environments. (Nowalk, 1999; Prater, 1965; Reeve, 1994; Stocker, 1987)

Physical Description

The dental formula for P. micropus is 3/3, 1/1, 3/2, 3/3. The upper incisors are separated by a gap and are long and slightly projecting, while the cheek teeth have a four-sided occlusal surface and raised cusps. (Reeve, 1994)

Indian hedgehogs are small and rounded like others of the family Erinaceidae, with a pointed nose and short legs. Paraechinus micropus has dark legs with relatively small feet and claws. The ears are large and slightly pointed, and the eyes are also well-developed. The species is noted for the broad spineless area on the scalp and for their dark muzzle; the dark patch may take various shapes but is distinct from the otherwise pale fur. The forehead fur is white, as is the fur of the underbelly and sides. This coloration is standard for the species, but melanism and albinism do occur. The fur of P. micropus has been reported as both thin or soft and dense, and the hairy tail is short. (Finn, 1929; Nowalk, 1999; Prater, 1965; Reeve, 1994)

Spines cover the dorsal skin and part of the sides, but not the face, tail, or legs. The spines are grooved and lie smooth when a hedgehog is calm, or become extended when a hedgehog is agitated. Spine colors vary from white to yellow with black and dark brown bands, although one color will dominate and most spines commonly have only one dark band. (Finn, 1929; Nowalk, 1999; Reeve, 1994)

Males of P. micropus are slightly larger than females. An adult male weighed 435 g, while a lactating female weighed only 312 g. An adult measures 140-272 mm long for the head and body, with an additional 10-40 mm for the tail. The young are born without spines, but have dorsal tubercles in rows that become short pink-white spines within 6 hours of birth; these spines achieve a length of 2-2.5 mm within 12 hours. (Gupta and Sharma, 1961; Nowalk, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    312 to 435 g
    11.00 to 15.33 oz
  • Range length
    140 to 272 mm
    5.51 to 10.71 in

Reproduction

Studies of desert hedgehogs, including P. micropus, often do not specify the species, particularly in work involving both P. micropus and long-eared hedgehogs (Hemiechinus auritus), which are also native to the region. Most published research on hedgehog mating behaviors is of European hedgehog mating (Erinaceus europaeus) and there is little data available for P. micropus. However, most hedgehog species seem to have similar courtship rituals. These involve a series of grunts and seemingly aggressive behaviors as the male herds the female. The male mounts from behind and leaves after copulation. (Reeve, 1994)

As with courtship, general data on reproduction are often vague or lacking. The precise gestation and lactation periods are unknown for this species and the timing of breeding and the birth of young range widely. Paraechinus micropus will breed once per year, generally in the spring or summer between April and September. Populations in Pakistan breed during the monsoon season and the females give birth between July and September, when food is readily available. Males are sexually ready well before the mating season. (Nowalk, 1999; Reeve, 1994; Stocker, 1987)

  • Breeding interval
    Indian hedgehogs breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season is spring to summer, or during the monsoon season.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5
  • Average number of offspring
    1-2

In the wild, female Indian hedgehosg will have a litter of 1-2 babies at a time, with as many as five in one captive litter. The young are altricial, with closed eyes until 21 days after birth, and can roll into a defensive posture in as little as one week. The mother nurses from her four pairs of nipples while lying on her side. If not cannibalized, the young have a good survival rate. (Gupta and Sharma, 1961; Nowalk, 1999; Prakash, 1960; Reeve, 1994; Stocker, 1987)

Several authors have researched the question of cannibalism in P. micropus. If a male is present, he may eat a baby immediately after birth, and even the mother may eat the babies. A captive female Indian hedgehog ate one of her five babies as soon as it was born and was only prevented from consuming the others by their immediate removal. (Gupta and Sharma, 1961; Reeve, 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There are no data available on the lifespan of P. micropus.

Behavior

Hedgehogs are generally solitary animals. Males and females meet only to breed, and the male invests no parental care, possibly owing to the frequency of unsuccessful copulations and pregnancies. With the exception of nursing mothers, only one hedgehog lives in a burrow at a time, although three shared one burrow in captivity. Paraechinus micropus is nocturnal, and will wander while hunting. They do not hibernate, but may seem to disappear in winter and can become torpid if food or water are scarce. Little is known about an individual’s range, but a good walking speed is 305 mm/s, and a scurrying hedgehog has been clocked at a speed of 635 mm/s. (Nowalk, 1999; Prater, 1965; Reeve, 1994)

Paraechinus micropus uses its forelimbs to dig a burrow, which it will inhabit for a year. One measured burrow was 457 mm long, with a single opening. The hole is located under brush, and they will use burrows made by other hedgehogs if vacant. The nest may be lined with grasses and other plant material, and hedgehogs may also bring food back to the nest, although they do not store food for the winter months. (Nowalk, 1999; Prater, 1965; Reeve, 1994; Stocker, 1987)

Indian hedgehogs also exhibit the self-anointing and defensive posture behaviors seen in other hedgehog species. Self-anointing refers to the hedgehog spreading its own saliva onto its back spines and fur after tasting or smelling something unfamiliar. This action is found in both sexes of all ages, and may occur at any time of year. The reason behind the behavior remains unknown; hypotheses include scent marking, sexual stimuli, and grooming. (Nowalk, 1999; Reeve, 1994)

Rolling into a ball allows the hedgehog to protect itself from curious predators with its coat of sharp spines. Young hedgehogs can do this within a few weeks, and many muscles are devoted to this behavior. A rolled up hedgehog draws its limbs inward and tucks its head between the forelimbs, creating a ball of spines with no fur or soft tissue on the surface. The muscles used for this are mainly striated, meaning that the action is voluntary; however, a few of the muscles are unstriated, so it is possible that rolling is partially instinctive and involuntary. (Gupta, 1961; Prakash, 1960)

Communication and Perception

Hedgehogs are mostly solitary and silent, but they do make a few sounds when in contact with other animals. Courting hedgehog females make loud snorting sounds to males, and poking a nest with a stick will obtain a hissing response from the inhabitant. A disturbed P. micropus will roll up and grunt or hiss, and in one study a captive mother made a squeaking sound even when alone with her young. (Prater, 1965; Reeve, 1994)

Food Habits

Indian hedgehogs feed primarily on insects, with beetles as the preferred prey, but will also eat worms and slugs, small vertebrates, scorpions, and the eggs of ground-nesting birds. Plants do not form any part of the diet, even for the water they might contain in a desert environment. Vertebrates are eaten in their entirety, including the bones, and these hedgehogs can break open small eggs. Along with the previously cited examples of eating the newly born babies, P. micropus may also cannibalize sick or weak individuals, although this behavior is more common if the prey animal is already dead. (Gupta and Sharma, 1961; Nowalk, 1999; Prater, 1965; Reeve, 1994)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms

Predation

The known predators of Indian hedgehogs include foxes (Vulpes spp.), Indian gray mongooses (Herpestes edwardsi), and possibly also rock-horned owls (Bubo bubo turcomanus). These predators must be either quick or clever to catch hedgehogs before they manage to roll up. (Reeve, 1994)

Ecosystem Roles

The role of Indian hedgehogs in the ecosystem have not been studied, but it might be presumed that these hedgehogs have a role in controlling the populations of their insect prey and in providing food for their predators. (Reeve, 1994)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • mites, ticks

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Since P. micropus lives in relatively uninhabited areas, it has had a lesser effect on humans compared to Erinaceus europaeus. As an insectivore it does control the populations of some insects, but does not affect agriculture to a large extent because of the desert environment. This species has not entered the pet trade to a large extent, but data are lacking, as is specific information on the use of the animal as food for humans. (Reeve, 1994)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The potential negative effects of P. micropus have not been well studied. Like European and African hedgehogs, P. micropus can carry pests such as ticks and mites, but these do not usually transfer to humans. Although hedgehogs have a reputation for stealing eggs, the eggs of chickens are too large for P. micropus. (Reeve, 1994)

Conservation Status

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) have no listings for Hemiechinus.

Other Comments

Paraechinus micropus was formerly known as Paraechinus micropus. In the Tamil language the animal is called Mollu-yelli. (Finn, 1929)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Megan Seitz (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor, instructor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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

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.

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).

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

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

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

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.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

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

References

Finn, F. 1929. Sterndale's Mammalia of India. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co..

Gupta, B. 1961. Investigations of the rolling mechanism in the Indian hedgehog. Journal of Mammalogy, 42: 365-371.

Gupta, B., H. Sharma. 1961. Birth and early development of Indian hedgehogs. Journal of Mammalogy, 42: 398-399.

Nowalk, R. 1999. Walker's mammals of the world. London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Prakash, I. 1960. Breeding of mammals in Rajasthan Desert, India. Journal of Mammalogy, 41: 386-389.

Prater, S. 1965. The book of Indian animals. Madras, India: Diocesan Press.

Reeve, N. 1994. Hedgehogs. London: T& A D Poyser Ltd..

Stocker, L. 1987. The complete hedgehog. London: Chatto & Windus.