One of the most distinguishing appearance features and characteristics of hedgehogs is the spikes on their spine – these are called quills, spines, prickles or spikes.
There are a lot of questions floating about relating to hedgehog quills and we aim to answer most of these in this article.
What are hedgehog quills? What are they made of?
The first thing we need to understand is what hedgehog quills are made of. Quills are made of keratin protein – these also make up things like hair, horns, nails and claws. Yes, human nails are also made of keratin. So basically, you can think of hedgehog quills as hard & strong modified hairs. Unlike spines of porcupines, the quills on hedgehogs cannot easily become detached from their bodies.
What are hedgehog quills for? What are their purpose?
There are a number of purposes that are served by hedgehog quills. Most importantly and understandably, they function as protection against predatory animals who try to eat them. When in danger or feeling threatened, hedgehogs roll into a prickly ball, covering all of their exposed body parts, making it extremely difficult to be attacked or eaten.
Hedgehog quills also have several other useful purposes. For example, hedgehogs are not very good at climbing downward, so when it comes to these situations, such as getting off a wall they curl into a ball and drop, working as a cushion and preventing them from getting injured.
Some people have also claimed the quills are used as rain protection, to keep their fur dry.
Do baby hedgehogs have spikes when born?
Baby hedgehogs, also known as hoglets, are born with small spikes. However, they have a completely different feel to adult hedgehog quills. They are much softer in texture, lighter in colour – white. As the number of quills is much smaller in baby hedgehog, you can even see the pink skin underneath them. Within a few days of being born, these quills start to harden and get darker in colour.
Do you get hedgehogs without quills?
Have you seen a hedgehog without quills? I have. Well not in real life, but this is what the internet is great for. There is a spike-less hedgehog named Nelson, which was rescued by Foxy Lodgelife Rescue in Norfolk, UK, while living in the wild. According to Tonia who works at Foxy Lodgelife Rescue, Nelson used to have some spikes and fur when he was first rescued, however, lost them and there are no signs of them growing back.
As well as being a bald hedgehog, Nelson has a problem with his legs, but otherwise healthy. No one knows what caused all of his quills to come out, but the volunteers assume this is due to stress-related issues which have occurred in the wild. Here are some pictures of spike-less Nelson below.
Do hedgehog quills sharp and hurt? Can they hurt you?
This is possibly one of the most common questions relating to hedgehog quills. Do they hurt to touch and handle? When hedgehogs are relaxed, their quills will not hurt at all to touch. They feel somewhat like a hairbrush.
When they feel threatened and their spikes are pointed upwards, it can be more uncomfortable and slightly painful to handle them. However, they shouldn’t cause any serious harm to your skin. Either way, it is really important that they are handled gently and properly.
How many quills does a hedgehog have?
The answer is more than it looks. I have never personally counted how many quills hedgehogs have but typically, adult hedgehogs have around 5,000 and 7,000 quills. At birth, hoglets have around 100 white soft spines attached to their swollen skin on their back. Each quill lasts about a year and before being falling out and replaced.
Are hedgehog quills poisonous?
No hedgehog quills are not poisonous. They only become poisonous when they lick poisonous plants or animals, such as frogs and then spread all across their quills by applying their saliva on to them. There are theories that they make the quills toxic to protect themselves by irritating predators.
Do hedgehogs shoot their quills?
No, hedgehogs do not and cannot shoot their quills.
Can you trim hedgehog quills?
No, you absolutely should not. Seriously, why would you do that? If you are thinking about doing that to your pet hedgehog, then you shouldn’t even own a pet hedgehog!
There was a hedgehog found in Sheffield, UK, who had their spines chopped off and injured. According to Mr Broadhead who has rescued this hedgehog, Frankie, said “It was clear Frankie had been abused – all its prickles had been cut off. He won’t uncurl, he is absolutely petrified and stressed.”.