Our dog had a close encounter with a hedgehog last night, well, in the early hours of this morning to be exact. He was indoors, and he heard it or smelled it, or both, and got quite agitated about getting out there to see off whatever was in the bushes. Last seen was his rump and a waggy tail disappearing into the bushes in the dark, and he triumphantly brought out an enormous ball of spikes – thankfully dropped before any damage occurred to either of them.


As they are known to hibernate in a nest of leaves, I suspect it had probably been tucked away beneath the accumulated garden debris of my compost heap. At this time of year, hedgehogs are just starting to come out of hibernation, and having been inactive during the colder months of December, January and February, are just reappearing now the weather is warming up. They are quite common in Portugal and are usually welcomed by gardeners for their diet alone, as they eat garden pests, such as worms, beetles, slugs, caterpillars, earwigs, millipedes, etc.

Originally called Urchins (a name that still persists in Portuguese – Ouriço), the European hedgehog has a body covered by around 6,000 brown and white spines, with short rudimentary tails, little snouts and beady eyes. The males tend to be slightly larger than females and measure up to 30 centimetres long.


Hedgehogs are nocturnal, non-territorial, and predominantly loners. Surprisingly, they can travel up to two kilometres a night when foraging, and can even run fairly quickly. Rolling into a tight ball is their method of self-defence, and have a thick sheet of muscle on their backs, called the mantle, which hangs down all around them and covers the top part of their legs, which they pull in tight like a drawstring bag as a way to protect themselves from danger. Once the danger is gone and they feel safe, they will relax their bodies back to their normal shape.

They have a strange habit of ‘self-anointing’ where it looks like they are foaming at the mouth, and this foamy saliva they then spread over their spines. The reason for this behaviour is unknown, but it is thought to be triggered by new foods, strong smells, or it is done to cover their own scent and disguise themselves from predators and other competing hedgehogs they might encounter.

Credits: Unsplash; Author: rainer-bleek;

These animals are not particularly noisy, making mostly grunts, snorts, and hoarse squeaks. Adults make these sounds during mating and feeding, and sometimes when captured. The young may whistle and squeak while in the nest.

Sense of Sight and Smell

Their eyesight isn’t great and is limited to shades of cream and brown. However, their other senses make up for this shortcoming, and their sensitive hearing will pick up important sounds, particularly higher tones. If they hear something of interest, they'll stand very still to ensure they can hear even better, as their spines rustle and make distracting noise when they walk. According to Louisiana State University, hedgehogs have a hearing frequency range between 250 and 45,000 Hz. They can't hear low-pitched sounds as well as humans can, who can hear down to 64 Hz, but it's much higher than the human range of 23,000 Hz.

The Nose Knows

Their sense of smell is their most important sense and can sniff out supper as easily as they as they can find intruders or other hedgehogs, picking up scents in the breeze. Sniffing as they walk, they are able to pick up the scent of dinner under as much as 2.5cm of soil.

Baby ‘hogs

The young are called ‘hoglets’, and are usually born in a nest of up to 7 infants. Weighing just 25g, they are born pink, helpless and hairless, with their eyes and ears tightly closed. Their soft, somewhat pliable spines are concealed beneath their skin and appear shortly after birth. After a short 6 weeks spent with mum, they rapidly develop from tiny, blind, spineless infants into independent young hogs.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan