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Tuatara: Volume 11, Issue 2, June 1963

Rotary Ambulations of Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus)

Rotary Ambulations of Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus)

Apropos ‘I.F's.’ comments on the gyrations of the hedgehog, the following may be of some interest.

For two good reasons hedgehogs practise, in the gloaming, the old proverb: ‘One good turn deserves another.’ If I.F. had carried the observations further, in a true biological spirit, instead of damping their ardour with a glass of cold water, she would have, undoubtedly, discovered, at least, one of the reasons for the monotonous hilarity of the ‘hedgehog reel’.

During the mating season, when two well-behaved hedgehogs meet, it is a signal for the commencement of the ‘reel’. On meeting, two males will ‘doff’ the prickles of the ‘forehead’ at each other with an angry ‘snuff’ by way of a challenge. The greetings over, they move round to a point of vantage to commence the first movement of the ‘reel’. Recently, an American biologist inquired of me whether the hedgehogs in the Southern Hemisphere rotated clockwise or counter-clockwise, but as my observations do not describe the complete cycle I merely quoted the above proverb!

Nature has provided hedgehogs with an almost impenetrable armour of acute prickles which can be swivelled round to form a protective shield on the side it is most needed. The only vulnerable area is the page 142 low-slung chassis to which the skinny, ‘telescopic’ legs are geared. To appreciate the extent to which the hind limbs can be extended, it is only necessary to await a hedgehog having a quiet scratch at an irritant spot in the centre of its back — it is a ludicrous performance. But, I must get back to the ‘reel’. Every effort is made to cripple the opponent's transport system, and so the ‘roundelay’ continues in strict tempo. Success terminates the ‘reel’ to the accompaniment of high-pitched squeals; the snuffing and puffing also ceases. The victor rolls up suddenly, chewing its opponent's foot, while the vanquished tries to make a sore chassé — there is no other reply to the adherent ball of prickles. The last movement is the parting of the ways — the vanquished, freeing its foot between ‘chews’. makes a fast get-away with a mangled foot or an abbreviated limb!

A variation to the male ‘reel’ is seen when the opposite sexes meet. The opening bars are very similar to those already described, but the female usually stays put, adjusting her armour to meet the point of attack or pivots round to face her suitor as he circles round her at ‘hedgehog speed’. At times, she will make off, with the male in hot pursuit, trying to cut off her retreat. If he succeeds, the ‘reel’ is resumed once more to the accompaniment of much snuffing and puffing. This ceremony continues for a considerable time. Occasionally, the ‘duet’ is transformed into the ‘eternal triangle’ or into a ‘quadrille’. Under such circumstances the female is kept whorling as the males beat a measured tread round her, snuffing and puffing as they go. But I have never witnessed the ‘grand finale’. However, it is interesting to observe that when the female is beseiged by several males, the males ignore each other and continue the ‘reel’.