AtelerixAfrican hedgehogs


Atelerix includes four species, Atelerix albiventris, Atelerix algrius, Atelerix frontalis, and Atelerix sclateri. All of these species are natives to Africa and are polygynous. They produce between two and five young. They have short life spans of about three years. They are omnivorous and their biggest predator is humans and other carnivores. These species can be kept as pets by humans but can infect humans with diseases by either directly handling them or by having contact with the soil in which these animals burrow in. The members of this genus are considered not threatened.

Geographic Range

African hedgehog species can be found throughout their native homeland of Africa. North African hedgehogs are found in North Africa in the African tropics including the Canary Islands. Southern African hedgehogs are located in South Africa near the Niger River. Four-toed hedgehogs are also located in the African tropics but mostly appear in the northern Niger area. They are also encountered in savanna and steppe zones and are considered natives to many countries in Africa. (Deef, 2019; Nogales, et al., 2006; Santana, et al., 2010; Stuart and Stuart, 2016; Velo- Anton, et al., 2019)


On the Canary Islands, North African hedgehogs are mostly found in agricultural habitats. They are invasive non-natives to the Canary Islands which are considered to be a semiarid habitat. In lower altitudes these islands can get up to 300 millimeters of precipitation annually and their average temperature is about 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit). In higher altitudes the annual precipitation rises to a maximum of 800 millimeters and the average temperature is about 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit). In general, though this species is only found on four of the Canary Islands. Two of those four are low in altitude and are influences by dry winds. Each island has a different habitat full of different kinds of vegetation and animals depending on their altitude and amount of rain fall. (Deef, 2019; Nogales, et al., 2006)

Four-toed hedgehogs are found in a terrestrial habitat, inhabiting steppes, savannas, and grasslands. This species is also widely spread throughout Africa but is sporadic in drier regions. They can also be found in contact with humans by living in gardens and plantations. They mostly live in areas with dry soil and are not found in forests. They require dry shelters in grass, leaf litter, a rocky crevice, or a hole in the ground. They are mostly known to live in areas where they can sleep in buildings or in brushwood. They prefer to live in open, dry, or seasonal habitats with sparse or patchy grass cover. This is important because they prefer to not live with large populations of ungulates. (Deef, 2019; Nogales, et al., 2006)

Systematic and Taxonomic History

Before Atelerix was elevated to the genus level by Pomel in 1848, species in this genus were considered Erinaceus. There are two generic synonyms: Aethechinus and Peroechinus. (Wilson and Reeder, 2005; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Four-toed hedgehogs were named in 1841 and heir type locality was in 1939. They have multiple synonyms, including Atelerix dansoni, Atelerix langi, Atelerix pruneri, and Atelerix faradjius. (Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

North African hedgehogs were named in 1842 and it was discovered that even though the credit for the name was originally listed by two authors, only one of those was the real author. This species has three subspecies: Atelerix algirus algirus, Atelerix algirus girbanensis, and Atelerix algirus vagans. The last two subspecies were recognized in 1983. This species has no synonyms. (Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Southern African hedgehogs were named in 1831. This species does not form a monophyletic group with the other species of Atelerix and may be considered in its own genus. There are two subspecies: Atelerix frontalis frontalis and Atelerix frontalis angolae. In 1986 Atelerix frontalis angolae was classified as a valid subspecies. There are no synonyms for this species. (Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Somali hedgehogs which were discovered and named in 1895. Not much is known about this species except that it is closely related to four-toed hedgehogs and might actually be just a subspecies. As a result there are no listed subspecies or synonyms. (Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

  • Synonyms
    • Aethechinus
    • Peroechinus

Physical Description

African hedgehogs are small animals with short legs and large feet. They have four digits on their front feet. They walk with a flat-footed “plantigrade” gait and have their tibia and fibula fused into one. They have hairy tails and elongated muzzles. They also have small eyes and a small braincase. They have a dense coat of narrow spines that start at their head and cover their back. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010; Velo- Anton, et al., 2019)

African hedgehogs range in body length from 5.5 inches to 10 inches and they weigh on average between 10.5 ounces and 17.5 ounces. Their tails range from a length of 0.8 inches to one inch. Overall, they all vary in looks, four-toed hedgehogs have a very pale, almost white, face and the underparts. The only variation between males and females of four-toed hedgehogs is that males have numerous elongated white spines that are usually absent in the females. They are gray brown to fizzled black when it comes to their fur and spines, just like southern African hedgehogs and Somali hedgehogs. North African hedgehogs are slim with brown fur and short spines. Somali hedgehogs have a white belly with dark fur on their lower abdomen and unlike the other species, they have a big toe. All African hedgehog species have a prominent white band from their forehead to flanks and also have a narrow center parting in their spines on their forehead. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010; Velo- Anton, et al., 2019)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike


African hedgehogs are polygynous, one male lives and mates with multiple females. Males take no part of caring for the young, they play part in courtship and mating. Females advertise for a mate with a whine. Males then court females by persistently following them. Males walk around females in estrous with their snout pointed toward her, making puffing sounds sometimes for several days. Females vigorously butt males with their heads as they snort and reject him. Males mount females from behind after she has flattened her spines and pressed her hindquarters out. (Bedford, et al., 2000; Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Four-toed hedgehogs are sexually active throughout the year with no apparent mating season. They average about one litter a year. Ovulation is induced by exposure to a male and normally occurs 16 to 23 hours after mating. The hormone gonadotropin is released and acts on the testes and ovaries to initiate and maintain their reproductive functions. Once that hormone is released about seven to eight eggs are ovulated. The length of time between initial introduction of a male and birth is between 34 and 44 days. Detecting pregnant hedgehogs is difficult but females can be assumed to be pregnant if they gain a significant amount of weight in two weeks. Females nutritional needs during pregnancy and lactation are about three times as great and caloric needs can increase five to six times. (Bedford, et al., 2000; Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

African hedgehogs have a gestation period ranging between 30 and 40 days. They can produce a maximum litter size of ten, but typically have two to five young per litter. Young can be born during any month of the year for four-toed hedgehogs. Southern African hedgehogs have a gestation period lasting 35 days. They have birth peaks from October to March. (Bedford, et al., 2000; Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Males have a penis with a smooth surface that has no spines. The penis is in a low pelvic position within the abdomen and has “horned” glans. Their spermatozoa have an asymmetric insertion of the tail on the sperm head. So far it is not understood why the spermatozoa is this way, but it is not unique to this genus. The spermatozoa also have a perforatorium with lateral barbs. The acrosomal matrix consists of only two peptides. Males also have testicles that remain intra-abdominal throughout their life. (Bedford, et al., 2000; Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Females have compact cumulus cells with very little matrix and is resistant to hyaluronidase in the freshly ovulated state. The diameter of the oviduct ampulla is not spacious, hardly exceeding that of the isthmus. They are considered an induced ovulator. (Bedford, et al., 2000; Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

When neonates are born, males and females all appear similar. Within 24 hours after birth the preputial opening of males migrates to the middle of the abdomen. For females the vulva is only a few millimeters from the anus. (Bedford, et al., 2000; Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • viviparous

African hedgehog young are born blind, helpless, and virtually naked so they are cared for by their mothers only. Females lick their young, eat the afterbirth, and place the young on their stomach to suckle. Young actively and vigorously push at the mother to search for a nipple and feed in the prone position to avoid injuring the mother while feeding. Before the eyes of young are open, they suckle solely from pectoral nipples. After they open their eyes, they suckle from both abdominal and pectoral nipples. The suckling period for them is between five and seven weeks. Young are weaned by four to six weeks of age and typically leave the mother in 30-45 days after that. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Southern African hedgehogs become mature at nine to ten weeks old. Four-toed hedgehogs usually reach sexual maturity at about one year old. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)


African hedgehog species live between two and three years in the wild. They can survive up to ten years in captivity. (Santana, et al., 2010)


African hedgehog species are nocturnal and solitary. They aestivate from June to September in South Africa. However, it is unlikely that they will in Nigeria. Aestivating means that they spend a hot or dry period in a prolonged state of dormancy. In order to aestivate they need to have a thick fat reserve for them to live on. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

When African hedgehogs are threatened, they curl up into a spiny ball to protect their heads and ventral surface. They growl, snort, and butt heads with other individuals when approached. They engage in self-anointing behavior, they spread odoriferous substances over themselves. One example of this is that they will take venom secretions from toads into their mouth and spread it over their spines. This would likely increase pain or potential infection of a potential predator. The reasoning for this behavior is unknown but it could be related to courtship or as a way for young to get their mother’s attention. This behavior could also be a way of protecting themselves against possible predators. They are terrestrial but are able to climb and swim. Africans hedgehogs move slowly but are capable of bursts of speed. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

In captivity, a social hierarchy is formed. Males fight and injure each other when they are held in close conditions in captivity. A defense behavior has been observed in captivity and not in the wild. In this behavior they erect their spines over the head and lunge toward the predator. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Courtship happens immediately when they are in captivity. Courtship normally includes various noises and nipping of the spines and feet. Pregnant females should be kept separately from others because cannibalization of neonates might occur. Females also are protective of their young and attack humans who disturb them. Sometimes females reject their young, kill them, or even eat their young if they have been handled by a human. It is suggested to leave mothers alone with their young one to two weeks after birth. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Communication and Perception

Members of African hedgehogs create a twitter vocalization with a closed mouth that can be heard at a distance of 20 centimeters. Both sexes make this twitter noise but those that are younger than 3 months and some adults never make this noise. This genus also makes hisses and snorts as a form of communication. They scream when they are attacked. Males serenade females with a birdlike call and females respond with hisses, snorts, or evasive movements. (Santana, et al., 2010)

Food Habits

African hedgehog species are omnivorous. They eat invertebrates and small vertebrate prey. Vertebrate prey includes beetles, earthworms, frogs, small reptiles, termites, rodents and birds’ eggs. They also eat fruit and fungi. These hedgehogs will also eat road kills at night. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Prey is located by sight, scent and sound and can be located four centimeters deep in soil. When hunting, they move their spines forward over the nose, which allows for a small about of exposed area. Immobile foods are often toyed with before they are consumed, and active prey is snapped into the mouth and chewed noisily. They shake their prey to death before being consumed. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)


A significant predator of African hedgehogs is humans, who kill hedgehogs through road kills. Road kills are highest in spring and summer. (Hallam and Mzilikazi, 2001; Mouhoub Sayah, et al., 2009; Santana, et al., 2010)

Four-toed hedgehogs have been found in pellets of the Verreaux’s eagle-owl. These eagle-owls are capable of killing them with their talons, despite their spines. Other carnivores prey on these animals, including species of owls, honey badgers, jackals, hyenas, and domestic dogs. (Hallam and Mzilikazi, 2001; Mouhoub Sayah, et al., 2009; Santana, et al., 2010)

  • Known Predators
    • Owl
    • Bubo lacteus
    • Mellivora capensis
    • Jackals
    • Hyenas
    • Domestic dog

Ecosystem Roles

Helminths and parasitic worms are found in Algerian hedgehogs. The most common type found is Physaloptera clausa which uses Algerian hedgehogs as an intermediate host. Four-toed hedgehogs can carry ringworm. (Khaldi, et al., 2012; Santana, et al., 2010)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Physaloptera clausa
  • Tinea corporis

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

African hedgehogs are kept as pets by humans. They are a good food source for people. They are beneficial when it comes to being a predator of invertebrate pests. (Hutchins, et al., 2003)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Four-toed hedgehogs can infect humans with diseases through direct physical contact with them or contact with the soil in which these hedgehogs burrow in. These diseases are bacterial, arboviruses, or parasitic. They are vectors or hosts for mange in humans and play a role in transmitting salmonella tilene, which is a rarely encountered serotype of humans. This means that the disease affects the immune cells of humans. (Santana, et al., 2010)

Conservation Status

Southern African hedgehogs are not officially listed as threatened. They are listed as rare in South Africa and suffer from localized hunting and collecting. They suffer from habitat loss due to agricultural development. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

Other African hedgehog species are listed as not threatened. Four-toed hedgehogs are classified as “lower risk- least concern”. They are common in their habitat but rarely seen and are not distributed throughout their range in eastern Africa. (Hutchins, et al., 2003; Santana, et al., 2010)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

There has been some fossil record analyses that have determined that the Erinaceidae family, that includes the genus Atelerix, has been around since the Late Cretaceous period. This family was more widespread in Africa during the Miocene and contained nearly 40 extinct forms in the superfamily Erinaceodea. North African hedgehog fossils have been identifited in a Bronze Age gravesite on the island of Minorca. No four-toed hedgehog fossils have been found. (Santana, et al., 2010)

African hedgehogs have a diploid number of 48 chromosomes. Their third largest chromosome is a sex chromosome. What makes this genus separate from the family Erinaceus is that they have an absence of positive heterochromatic material, a grouping of 3 small autosomal pairs, and absence of a medium-sized acrocentric element that happens to be present in Erinaceus. Atelerix and Aethechinus have similar genetic material and it has previously been proposed to merge these two taxa into a single genus. That proposal was rejected in 1985 but has since gained acceptance in 1986, 1991, and 2005. (Santana, et al., 2010)


Danielle Mumaw (author), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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.

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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


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


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


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.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

pet trade

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


having more than one female as a mate at one time


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


lives alone


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


uses touch to communicate


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.


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.


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


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Deef, L. 2019. First Record of Atelerix albiventris (Family: Erinaceidae) from South-Eastern of Egypt Confirmed by Molecular Analysis.. Pakistan Journal of Zoology, 51/1: 9-14. Accessed February 01, 2020 at

Hallam, S., N. Mzilikazi. 2001. Heterothermy in the southern African hedgehog, Atelerix frontalis. Journal of Comparative Physiology B-Biochemical Systemic and Environmental Physiology, 181/3: 437-445. Accessed January 31, 2020 at

Hutchins, M., A. Evans, J. Jackson, D. Kleiman, J. Murphy, D. Thoney. 2003. Grimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Detroit, MI: Gale.

Khaldi, M., J. Torres, B. Samso, J. Miquel, M. Biche, M. Benyettou, G. Barech, H. Benelkadi, A. Ribas. 2012. Endoparasites (Helminths and Coccidians) in Hedgehogs Atelerix algiers and Paraechinus aethiopicus from Algeria. African zoology, 47/1: 48-54.

Mouhoub Sayah, C., J. Robin, P. Pevet, S. Monecke, S. Doumandji, M. Saboureau. 2009. Road mortality of the algerian hedgehog (Atelerix algiers) in Soummam valley (Algeria). Rev. Écol. (Terre Vie), 64/2: 145-156.

Nogales, M., J. Rodriguez-Luengo, P. Marrero. 2006. Ecological effects and distribution of invasive non-native mammals on the Canary Islands. Mammal Review, 36/1: 49-65.

Santana, E., H. Jantz, T. Best. 2010. Atelerix albibentris (Erinaceomorpha: Erinaceidae). Mammalian Species, 42/857: 99-110.

Stuart, C., T. Stuart. 2016. Mammals of North Africa and the Middle East. London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Velo- Anton, G., Z. Boratynski, C. Ferreira, V. Lima, P. Alves, J. Brito. 2019. Intraspecific genetic diversity and distribution of Nort hAfrican hedgehogs (Mammalia: Erinaceidae). Biological Journal of Linnean Society, 127/1: 156-163.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed March 19, 2020 at