This winter a few little creatures are responsible for taking most of my time. Well, not taking, just making most of my days. So here is my story of...
Early December when the winter had blown first of its cold breaths into my garden, I was to join Kristy cat on the window, during her everyday task of scanning the front garden for some action. And there was plenty. Little birds everywhere, fighting for pieces of bread crumbs and seeds that have fallen out of the feeder. And then, a wee, prickly figure staggering about with his very own slice of stale bread. It was early afternoon, and the weather was quite chilly, about -5C.
I was surprised to see a tiny hedgehog out in midday, during such a cold period, when it should have been in a 'deep sleep' mode by then. So tiny, it weighed only 200g, while a single hedgehog should weigh at least 600g to survive the winter and wake up after hibernating through the cold months. In a blink of a moment I decided to overwinter the poor little lad, even though the only experience I have had with hedgies was feeding them cat food and leftovers in the backyard. He (I later found out it was a 'he') must have been so starved out he would not let go of his stale bread. So I brought him in, and the next mission was to make him a new home. I connected two big rectangular PVC boxes with a PVC water pipe (thanks Dad).
I hardly knew anything about hedgehog care so I was learning along the way and googling up anything and everything on them. I named the little fella Billy Bob ( but any similarity with Thornton was accidental ;-). He had a severe respiratory inflammation and was so oblong and underweight he hardly resembled a hedgie (you can see how tiny he still was a few weeks after I've brought him in on the above photo). Since the vets here will rarely treat hedgies and even if they do, they will just do whatever needed to get rid of the annoying and demanding owner, it was just Google and me. Nevertheless, his health improved visibly within weeks, and so did his weight. He also had a slight mange infection which was succesfully treated with a mixture of tea tree oil and baby oil. And now, 3 months later, he is a chubby pile of prickles that can hardly fit into his tunnel, and has early morning activity moments with Kristy the cat, his personal aerobics trainer, to help him stay fit.
A month later, during the worst colds of January (-15C), thanks to dogs, we have found another lost cause in the garden, another hoglet, an autumn juvenile just like Billy Bob, that did not accumulate enough fat to hibernate, so he was roaming the frozen backyard looking for some food (or help). This lad was in a severe condition: seriously anemic, stuffed with ticks, a bad case of mange and fungal dermatitis and flu. His weight was nearly 350g but he was in such a bad condition he wouldn't even curl up in a ball. By now, I have bought another wide rabbit cage, so my hedgie could have more space to roam around in the night. It has a built-in hideout as they like to bury into an isolated place, where they can sleep during the day, undisturbed by daily light. The new hedgehog, named Marco.Polo, desperately needed some vet help.
But like I said, I was on me own, and I had to go to the vet's and beg for a drop of Ivermectin (parasiticide) to sprinkle on his food, becasue he was too weak to be treated in any other way. He wouldn't eat for days, and had to be syringe-fed, but then he fell for something that Billy Bob had lost his head over: bananas. No tinned cat food, as delicious as it may be, no sultanas, no fruit, no treats could ever delight my hedgies as much as bananas do. Along the way, he was treated for lungworms (25mg Mebendazole two times a day, I used the meds my cats get for worming), severe respiratory inflammation (antibiotics through syringe or hidden in yummy banana slices), mange and ringworms (Canesten cream on the nose, ears and around the eyes; for prickles and belly the following mixture: a pint of tepid water, 10 drops of quality Tea Tree oil, 2 drops Lavender oil, 1 spoon of Almond oil and a squirt of baby oil, applied every 3 days) and this is the first week I can finally say he now resembles a healthy, young hedgehog, following the example of his examplary inmate, Billy Bob.
They do live in separate cages (boxes), as they are both males, and during their free walks in the front room, Billy Bob was spotted bandying Marco around like a little toy. It was only recently that they've had the opportunity to test their prickly strength with one another, since Marco was in isolation for over a month during his mites and ringworm issues. When I say cages, that's exactly what their homes are to them. No matter how much we humans will try to make their life and homes comfortable, they still are wild animals, born to be free, and they are bound to feel imprisoned. I have grown so very fond of them both, but I still think of myself as their gaoler, and sometimes think they really must hate me for depriving them of their natural life and confining them to a piece of plastic art. But I guess that's slightly a better option than being frozen to death under a pile of leaves in the backyard. In a month or so, they will be set free in the backyard where they will hopefully continue to enjoy that little bit of wilderness in this crazy town, and share our garden joys and sights with us.
1. Here are some of the most interesting, important and intriguing facts I have learned, so far, from my dear bathroom inmates, Billy Bob and Marco.Polo.
They both belong to the variety of Erinaceus concolor or the East European Hedgehog (White-breasted hedgehog) which is a protected species in Croatia, but also in the whole of EU.
2. I had to place their homes in a temperature controlled location, my bathroom and use an oil radiator to keep the place warm above 20C. The ideal temperature range for hedgehogs
is 72˚ – 80˚F ( 22-26˚C)
3. According to some guidelines, hedgies should have at least 2 square feet of floor space with a solid bottom. As they love to explore at night, the more room the better. Oh and yes, hedgies can and will climb all sorts of things and escape the cage if it has no top or the walls are not high enough (Billy Bob used to climb on his tiny hideout, a shoebox full of straw, and jump out over the walls of the box, making a great goodmorning surprise for when you step into your bathroom and suddenly feel you've just entered a poop factory ;-)
4. Generally, a hedgehog found outside during the day must be very hungry (underweight) or sick or both. They are primarily nocturnal animals, even though juveniles can be seen out during the day, foraging for food and trying to build weight before hibernation. And this particularly goes for the late litters of hedgehogs, autumn juveniles, like BB and Marco, due to the unusually warm autumn weather, like the last year's. If you ask me, the only way you will know a hedgie needs help is if you catch it and weigh it.
5. Hedgehogs need to be AT LEAST 600g in weight to be able to hibernate succesfully.
6. Be sure to visit these two great sites 1) Epping Forest Hedgehog Rescue for all sorts of medical conditions and first aid, and the plentiful 2) British Hedgehog Preservation Society for anything and everything you ever needed to know about helping the little prickly buggers. Mange, for instance, can be potentially life-threatening for a hedgehog. Loss of prickles, scaly, flaky skin, bald patches, complete loss of fur, epilepsy-like attacks, aggressive behaviour and biting your carers (hello Marco) are just some of the symptoms.
When the lungworms breed inside the hedgehog they rapidly multiply, fill the hedgehog's lungs and the hedgehog either dies from drowning (Pneumonia) or bleeding from the lungs. Hedgehogs with lungworms have terrible breathing problems, are very thin and underweight, often have bad diarrhea and will have secondary bacterial infections. Once the worms are well established the hedgehog coughs like an old smoker and gasp for air before dying in agony. Post-mortem examinations often show the lungs as a solid mass with very little lung tissue left.
8. When it comes to food, I provide the following: tinned cat, puppy or kitten food (chicken flavor their favorite / never feed fish flavors), poultry flavored cat biscuits, meat leftovers like chicken and mince, bananas and sultanas as treats, 100% natural muesli (Tropical flavor), probiotic yogurt, worms, crickets... Hedgehogs should never be given cow's milk, bread or salty foods. Also, hedgehogs drink a lot of water. And like I said, when it comes to bananas, I could swear I have heard both of them purr out of joy.
9. Whilst the hedgehog is in hibernation, a number of odd things happen to it: The hedgehog stops being a warm blooded animal since this uses up too much energy. Its body temperature falls to match that of the surrounding environment. However, the surrounding temperature must not be below freezing (the ideal temperature in the nest for successful hibernation is about 5º c) and if it rises too much, the animal's blood flow will increase and start to use up too much stored fat. The hedgehog becomes cold to the touch; stops moving; heart rate drops
to about 20 beats per minute. To wake up, the hedgehog needs to metabolise fat which warms the body and begins to get the blood flowing again. The hedgehog may help itself along by shivering. This can all take from 1/2 to 1 hour to complete. Only then does the hedgehog have a normal body temperature and can again venture out into the world
10. Hedgehogs taken into care do not have to and should not hibernate ! They do well and are all the more fit for missing it.
11. SELF-ANOINTING: If you smell *really* interesting, your hedgehog will lick or nibble on you, back off, and suddenly contort itself, start foaming at the mouth, and lick the foam onto its spines. This ``self-anointing'' has to be seen to be believed, but it's perfectly normal. It's not known for sure why they do it, but it probably has something to do with self-defence; hedgehogs are *highly* resistant to most toxins, and when they encounter something that might be toxic, they get it in their mouths, foam, and cover themselves with the toxic mixture. The result is a toxic hedgehog, which is really something to reckon with. (Incidentally, the toxin resistance of hedgehogs is truly prodigious and has been the subject of some research; they are one of the few animals that can safely eat giant toads (Bufo marinus), for instance. They will also seek out and kill adders (they are immune to their venom).
I noticed my hedgies like to chew on the carpet, looking for
strange odours (like stain removers)or stick their little noses
into the vacuum cleaner extensions and sniff away!
12. Hedgehogs are extremely car-sick.
13. Long before the advent of Groundhog Day on
February 2nd, the Romans observed a similar event thousands of years ago
on the exact same day. Rather than use the North American groundhog,
the Romans used the hedgehog.
14. “If during hibernation, he (the hedgehog) looks
out of his den on 2nd February and sees his shadow it means there is a clear
moon and six more weeks of winter so he returns to his burrow.”
15. Until 1990's, there was no name for a baby hedgehog, so the hedgie
enthusiasts gave it a name: hoglet.
16. Hedgehogs have an amazing immunity to most things that are toxic.
Quantities of many toxins that would kill a human hundreds or even thousands of times over will often have no noticeable effect on a hedgehog at all. This trait has inspired both legends and scientific research, with no conclusive results other than acknowledgment that it is true.
17. Another great site about providing care for autumn orphans/juveniles.
18. Gardeners also need to be aware that injuries caused by lawn mowers and
trimmers are one of the most common type of injuries in hedgehogs.
it would trigger the unpleasant hedgehog bites.
I'd swear not even dogs could bite that hard.
Marco would too. ;-)
19. I've mentioned the Tea Tree oil before. It is supposed to be toxic for hedgehogs, as well as for other animals. I would add that this is true to some extent, for if it gets digested in any way, it surely is TOXIC, even for humans (but you can still make an excellent TeaTree oil mouthwash;-). Or if it's a poor quality, or a quality that is good for nothing more than your finest aroma burner. But when it comes to 100% pure essential oils like that of Primavera Life and Oshadhi, I can say it is one of a few natural antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral products that really do make a difference. Same goes for a Tea Tree cream from a good health shop or chemist, and in many cases it has shown to be an excellent cure, if not better than traditional veterinary remedies.
20. Do visit the Epping Forest Hedgehog Rescue (UK) for anything and everything you ever wanted and needed to know about hedgehogs. Find out how to help ''The Hedgehog in YOUR garden!''
So much about my prickly little friends for now. As far as my gardening spirit is concerned, with the first rays of sunlight, I galloped to the local nursery only to discover a new target of my lust: Vossii Laburnum and a fresh supply of spring bulbs. Sweet heavens !!!