16 Fun Facts About Hedgehogs

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iStock

After cats, hedgehogs might be the internet's favorite animal. But how much do you know about these spiky mammals—other than how cute they look when getting a bath?

1. A GROUP OF HEDGEHOGS IS CALLED AN "ARRAY."

Hedgehogs poking around in the dirt.
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But it doesn't come up much, since hedgehogs are solitary creatures who usually come together only to mate.

2. HEDGEHOGS ARE ILLEGAL IN SOME PARTS OF THE UNITED STATES.

Hedgehog in a bucket with purple beads.
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The hedgie has gained some popularity as a pet—but some cities and states still qualify them as wild animals, which are not allowed to be kept domestically. These include Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New York City and Washington, D.C. In some areas, like Maine, you need permits in order to own one.

3. A HEDGEHOG HAS BETWEEN 5000 AND 7000 QUILLS.

Hedgehog in a garden.
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Muscles along the animal's back can raise and lower the quills to respond to threatening situations.

4. THERE ARE 17 DIFFERENT SPECIES OF HEDGEHOG, NONE OF WHICH ARE NATIVE TO AMERICA.

Two African hedgehogs.
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Australia also has no indigenous hedgehogs; the hedgies in New Zealand were introduced by humans.

5. HEDGEHOGS RELY ON HEARING AND SMELL BECAUSE THEY HAVE VERY POOR EYESIGHT.

Hedgehog looking for strawberries.
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And even their limited sight is best in the dark as an adaption to their nocturnal lifestyle.

6. UNLIKE PORCUPINE QUILLS, HEDGEHOG SPIKES ARE NOT BARBED, AND THEY'RE NOT POISONOUS.

A close-up of hedgehog quills.
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The inside of the quills are mostly hollow, with a series of complex air chambers that make them light but strong.

7. HEDGEHOGS GOT THEIR NAME FROM THEIR PREFERRED HABITAT—GARDEN HEDGES—AND THE PIG-LIKE GRUNTS THEY MAKE.

Hedgehog playing in purple flowers.
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Their taste for destructive insects makes them a historically welcome presence in English gardens.

8. HEDGEHOGS CAN HIBERNATE, BUT NOT ALL DO.

A hedgehog rolled up in a little ball on some leaves.
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Which makes them one of only three mammals in Great Britain that hibernate (the other two being bats and dormice).

9. HEDGEHOGS ARE LARGELY IMMUNE TO SNAKE VENOM.

Baby hedgehogs nursing on their mother.
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This means that, although their typical diet consists of insects and berries, they can take down a viper in a fight and eat it, too.

10. THE SEA URCHIN IS ACTUALLY NAMED AFTER THE HEDGEHOG.

A baby hedgehog lying in a human hand.
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Before the more adorable name came into use, the spiky mammals were called "urchins" throughout the Middle Ages, and thus inspired the name of the similarly spiky sea creatures. Baby hedgehogs are still called urchins.

11. MEDIEVAL BESTIARIES AND ILLUMINATED TEXTS SHOW HEDGEHOGS GATHERING FOOD WITH THEIR QUILLS.

Hedgehog with two cherries stuck on his quills.
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This is inaccurate. But affinity for the image has persisted.

12. IN THE PRECURSOR TO GROUNDHOG DAY, HEDGEHOGS WERE THE SUPPOSEDLY PORTENTOUS CRITTERS.

Hedgehog curled up on some pine branches.
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But when German settlers got to America and found no hedgehogs, they turned to the similar-enough groundhog for their winter-weather predictions.

13. IN NEW ZEALAND, A SATIRICAL POLITICAL PARTY TRIED TO GET A HEDGEHOG ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT.

Little hedgehog walking in fall leaves.
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The McGillicuddy Serious Party was unsuccessful with their tiny candidate.

14. THERE USED TO BE SUCH A THING AS THE INTERNATIONAL HEDGEHOG OLYMPIC GAMES (IHOG).

Hedgehog swimming in a pool.
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Events included sprints, hurdles, and floor exercises.

15. ONE OF THE LESSER-KNOWN BROTHERS GRIMM FAIRY TALES IS CALLED HANS-MY-HEDGEHOG, ABOUT A BOY WHO IS BORN HALF HEDGEHOG.

Two hedgehogs cuddled in the grass.
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Not your style? Try another Grimm tale, The Hare and The Hedgehog.

16. WHEN EXPOSED TO PUNGENT SMELLS OR TASTES, HEDGEHOGS EXHIBIT A BEHAVIOR CALLED "SELF-ANOINTING," IN WHICH THEY RUB FROTHY SALIVA ON THEIR QUILLS.

Hedgehog sleeping with a leg out.
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The purpose of this behavior is unknown.

A version of this list first ran in 2016.

10 Colorful Facts About Cassowaries

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iStock/BirdImages

All birds are living dinosaurs, but the dagger-clawed cassowary especially looks the part. Even wildlife biologists call cassowaries the world's most dangerous bird—and yes, it has been known to kill people. Here’s everything you need to know about the majestic and terrifying beast.

1. The southern cassowary is Earth's second-heaviest bird.

Scientists recognize three living species of cassowary—all of which live in New Guinea, northeastern Australia, and nearby islands. The dwarf cassowary is the smallest, with an average height of around 3 feet. The northern cassowary, an orange-throated behemoth, can stand nearly 5 feet tall. The southern cassowary is bigger than both at 5 foot 6 inches tall. The only two birds that grow taller are ostriches and emus. Adult southern cassowary females can weigh up to 157 pounds, and males 121 pounds, making them the second-heaviest birds on the planet behind ostriches.

2. Cassowaries have dangerous feet.

In the southern cassowary's Australian range, you might come across warning signs that read “Be Cass-o-wary.” Heed this advice. Normally, cassowaries are shy and reclusive, but they can become aggressive when threatened and strike back with powerful head-butts and pecks. Their most dangerous weapon is the razor-sharp claw on the middle toe of each foot, which, in southern cassowaries, grows to be 5 inches long. The birds deliver a series of downward kicks that have been known to break bones and cause fatal lacerations. 

3. Rearing cassowary chicks is the father's job.

Female cassowaries breed with several partners. After laying her eggs, she abandons them, at which point the males take over and incubates the eggs for at least 50 days. The fathers never leave the nest, not even to eat or drink. Once the eggs hatch, males spend the next nine months raising and defending the chicks. Males also teach the chicks how to forage so they can fend for themselves.

4. Cassowaries are surprisingly good jumpers.

What’s scarier than a 150-pound modern dinosaur with killer claws? One that can leap 7 feet off the ground. To get the most out of those toe daggers, cassowaries will sometimes jump feet-first at an attacker, with the claws slashing downward in midair. They’re also great swimmers and sprinters with a top running speed of 30 miles per hour.

5. Cassowaries have a spike hidden on each wing.

Cassowaries are closely related to emus and more distantly related to ostriches, rheas, and kiwis. All of these birds, known as ratites, are flightless. Cassowaries have small vestigial wings tipped with a small claw that probably serves no purpose.

6. Cassowaries are frugivores that also eat their own poop.

Wild cassowaries dine mainly on fruits and berries that fall to the ground in the rainforests they call home. A typical southern cassowary can eat up to 11 pounds of fruit a day, along with plenty of fungi and the occasional dead animal for some extra protein.

Cassowaries also hunt rodents, snails, and lizards. Poop is yet another item on the menu. Cassowary poop usually contains half-digested fruit, which still has plenty of nutritional value, so the birds devour each other’s droppings as well as their own. 

7. The function of their odd crests, or casques, is a mystery. 

Cassowaries sport royal-blue necks and shaggy black feathers, but their most distinctive feature is the helmet-like casque that sits above the eyes. The bony protrusion is covered with a sheath of keratin (the material that makes up your fingernails), and it begins to develop when the bird is around 2 years old. Scientists have long speculated, sometimes wildly, about its purpose. One theory is that casques help cassowaries push aside forest underbrush. The casques might also be used to attract the opposite sex.

A more interesting hypothesis involves how these birds communicate. Cassowaries emit very deep bellows—the lowest bird calls known to humans. Perhaps their casques amplify and broadcast these sounds by acting as a resonance chamber. Certain crested dinosaurs (like Parasaurolophus of Jurassic Park fame) may have produced calls the same way.

8. Cassowaries can live for decades (at least in zoos).

Naturalists don’t know how long a wild cassowary can expect to live. A few southern cassowaries have reached their 40th birthdays in captivity. In zoos, northern cassowaries can top that figure—one reached the age of 48 and another may have been as old as 61. The average lifespan for captive dwarf cassowaries is about 26 years.

9. Cassowaries have strange genitalia.

Both sexes have a pseudo-penis that isn’t connected to any of their internal reproductive organs. When cassowaries mate, the male ejaculates through his cloaca, an orifice at the base of the pseudo-penis. When they aren’t mating, males' pseudo-penis is turned inside out and retracted.

Such peculiar anatomy has given the cassowary a unique place in New Guinean culture and folklore. For example, the native Mianmin people tell stories about a human woman with a penis who somehow transformed into a cassowary. Another indigenous group, the Umeda, put on a regular ceremony called “ida.” A big event that lasts for two days and nights, the ritual involves a fertility dance which calls for two male dancers who represent a pair of cassowaries. Each player is given a heavy mask and is coated with charcoal from head to toe.

10. At least two unfortunate humans have been killed by cassowaries. 

To date, there have been only two verified reports of a cassowary taking human life. In April 1926, a cassowary fatally charged 16-year-old farmer Phillip McLean in north Queensland, Australia. More recently, a 75-year-old Florida man was killed by a cassowary he had kept as a pet at his exotic bird farm.

In 1999, Queensland Parks and Wildlife ranger Christopher P. Kofron analyzed 150 documented cassowary-on-human attacks. Twenty-two percent of attacks resulted from the bird defending itself, its eggs, or its chicks, 5 percent were triggered by somebody getting too close to the cassowary’s food, and 73 percent involved a cassowary that associated people with free meals. Many cassowaries in Australia had lost their natural shyness around humans thanks to people feeding them bananas and watermelon. Today, feeding a wild one is against the law, but the practice continues.

Notre-Dame's Rooftop Bees Survived the Historic Fire

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Following the fire that tore through Notre-Dame in Paris on April 15, fire officials shared that the church's bell towers, stone facade, and many of its precious artifacts had escaped destruction. But the building's centuries-old features weren't the only things threatened by the blaze: The three beehives on the roof of the cathedral were also at risk. Now, CNN reports that the bees of Notre-Dame and their homes have survived the historic fire.

Notre-Dame's beehives are a relatively recent addition to the site: They were placed on the first-floor rooftop over the sacristy and beneath one of the rose windows in 2013. Nicolas Geant, the church's beekeeper, has been in charge of caring for the roughly 180,000 Buckfast bees that make honey used to feed the hungry.

Most people weren't thinking of bees as they watched Notre-Dame burn, but when the fire was put out, Geant immediately searched drone photographs for the hives. While the cathedral's wooden roof and spire were gone, the beehives remained, though there was no way of knowing if the bees had survived without having someone check in person. Geant has since talked to Notre-Dame's spokesperson and learned that bees are flying in and out of the hives, which means that at least some of them are alive.

Because the beehives were kept in a section 100 feet below the main roof where the fire was blazing, they didn't meet the same fate as the church's other wooden structures. The hives were likely polluted with smoke, but this wouldn't have hurt the insects: Bees don't have lungs, so smoke calms them rather than suffocates them.

Notre-Dame's bees may have survived to buzz another day, but some parts of the building weren't so lucky. France has vowed to rebuild it, with over $1 billion donated toward the cause so far.

[h/t CNN]

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