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.

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

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iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

A Rare Blue Lobster Ended Up in a Cape Cod Restaurant

Richard wood, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Richard wood, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Lobsters have precious few defenses when it comes to being tossed in a vat of boiling water or on a grill and turned into dinner. They have not yet evolved into not being delicious. But sometimes, one lucky lobster can defy the odds and escape their sentence by virtue of a genetic defect that turns them blue.

According to MassLive, one such lobster has been given a reprieve at Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Named "Baby Blue," the crustacean arrived at the restaurant from the Atlantic and was immediately singled out for its distinctive appearance.

Blue lobsters are a statistical abnormality. It's estimated only one in every two million carry the defect that creates an excessive amount of protein that results in the color. A lobsterman named Wayne Nickerson caught one in Cape Cod in 2016. He also reported catching one in 1990. Greg Ward of Rye, New Hampshire caught one near the New Hampshire and Maine border in 2017.

Lobsters can show up in a variety of colors, including orange, yellow, a mixture of orange and black, white, and even take on a two-toned appearance, with the colors split down the middle. Blue is the most common, relatively speaking. A white (albino) specimen happens in only one out of 100 million lobsters. The majority have shells with yellow, blue, and red layers and appear brown until cooked, at which point the proteins in the shell fall off to reveal the red coloring.

It's an unofficial tradition that blue lobsters aren't served up to curious customers. Instead, they're typically donated to local aquariums. Nathan Nickerson, owner Arnold's, said he plans on doing the same.

[h/t MassLive]

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