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What do hedgehogs eat?

Hedgehogs eat a range of different food in the wild.  What they eat will depend on:
Where they are (which country, habitat type)
Availability of food
The season, climate and weather conditions
The age of the hedgehog 
and many other factors. The way studies assess the diet of the hedgehog will also affect the findings. Some studies have looked at fecal analysis and observed the digested material. Others have used stomach content analysis and a few have used more advanced techniques. Studies have found that the proportion of food in a hedgehog stomach does not always give the same amount of energy to the hedgehog. Some foods are energy rich whilst others require high consumption to extract even a small amount of energy.

For example,  a study of fecal analysis in rural areas in Yorkshire and Norfolk found that insects were found in all samples, but gastropods were only found in 10% (Pettett 2015).  A study of stomach contents by Yalden in 1976 produced the following table which shows the differences in the number of hedgehogs that had consumed that prey (stomachs) and the number of prey found in each stomach. (Yalden, Derek William. “The food of the hedgehog in England.” Acta Theriologica 21 (1976): 401-424.)

Yalden, Derek William. “The food of the hedgehog in England.” Acta Theriologica 21 (1976): 401-424.

Food availability will influence what hedgehogs can find during foraging and the diagram below shows some of the seasonal changes in diet that hedgehogs may experience (Wroot, A.J., 1984. Feeding ecology of the European hedgehog Erinaceus Europaeus. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing).

Wroot, A.J., 1984. Feeding ecology of the European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus. Royal Holloway, University of London.

Differences in hedgehog diet have been observed across different countries and habitat types which may reflect the availability of prey species, climate and weather conditions. However, similarities were also found with studies finding beetles, caterpillars and earthworms, and other insects forming much of the diet. The diagrams below show how hedgehogs in different areas can have different diets and how stomach contents can vary from dietary energy.

The three pie charts represent percentages of dietary energy, while the bar chart shows the percentage occurrence of each species/group in the stomachs of 137 hedgehogs. The percentage of slugs and snails varies across the studies from 1%, 3%, 6% (dietary energy) to 27% stomach contents.

Pie charts drawn from data calculated and tabulated by Nigel Reeve in his 1994 book, Hedgehogs. Original data from: Yalden, 1976 (East Anglia); Grosshans, 1983 (N.W. Germany); and Wroot, 1984 (Middlesex). Bar chart compiled from Yalden's (1976) dataset Credit: Marc Baldwin. https://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/animals/article/european-hedgehog-food-feeding-behaviour-diet

Reeve 1994 data and Yalden 1976  data

More recent studies have focused on the effects of supplementary feeding and human food. A study in Finland found that 92% of stomachs had human food in them (Rautio et al 2016). 

 

insect.jpg
Rautio 1996 data on hedgehog stomachs

A study by Gimmel in 2019 compared commercial hedgehog foods in Switzerland and found that many were nutritionally poor compared with the natural diets. Finally a study by Gazzard et al 2020 found that feeding during hibernation periods affected hedgehog activity levels.

 

If you'd like to help hedgehogs in your garden, providing areas that will create natural foods is the most helpful. This could be log piles, long grass, wildflowers and a wildlife pond will attract more insects to your garden. If you are using supplementary feeding please put out wet or dried cat food. 

Further reading​

Gazzard, A., Baker, P.J., 2020. Patterns of feeding by householders affect activity of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) during the hibernation period. Animals (Basel), 10(8), pp.1–15. 10.3390/ani10081344.
Gimmel, A., Cyrus-Eulenberger, U., Liesegang, A., 2019. Comparison of commercial diets for the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) with their natural diet. In: s.n, 2019. 10.5167/uzh-181070.

Jones, C., Moss, K., Sanders, M., 2005. Diet of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in the upper Waitaki Basin, New Zealand: Implications for conservation. New Zealand journal of ecology, 29(1), pp.29–35.
Pettett, C.E., 2015. Factors affecting hedgehog distribution and habitat selection in rural landscapes. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Rautio, A. et al., 2016. Mortality, diseases and diet of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in an urban environment in Finland. Mammal Research, 61(2), pp.161–169. 10.1007/s13364-015-0256-7.

Yalden, Derek William. “The food of the hedgehog in England.” Acta Theriologica 21 (1976): 401-424.

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