Hibernation Patterns of the European Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, at a Cornish Rescue Centre

Animals (Basel). 2020 Aug 14;10(8):1418. doi: 10.3390/ani10081418.


The European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, is frequently admitted to rescue centres in the UK. With many overwintering in captivity, there is cause to investigate hibernation patterns in order to inform and improve husbandry and monitoring protocols. Thirty-five hedgehogs were studied over two winters. Weight change during hibernation for the first winter was used to test for effects of disturbance on different aspects of hibernation, including total duration, frequency and duration of spontaneous arousals. There was no significant difference between the two winters for any of the four aspects studied. Significant positive correlations demonstrated that weight-loss increased with the duration of the hibernation period and with percent of nights spent asleep, but not with the number of arousal events. Thus, weight-loss appears more strongly associated with the proportion of time spent asleep than with the number of arousal events. This was surprising given the assumed energetic expense of repeated arousal and was potentially due to availability of food during arousals. In contrast with previous studies, larger hedgehogs lost less weight per day than did smaller hedgehogs. They also woke up more often (i.e., had more opportunities to feed), which may explain the unexpected pattern of weight-loss. Hibernatory behaviour in captivity differs from that in the wild, likely because of non-natural conditions in hutches and the immediate availability of food. This study provides a basis for further research into the monitoring and husbandry of hedgehogs such that it can be adapted for each individual according to pre-hibernation weight and behaviour during hibernation.

Keywords: hedgehog; hibernation; metabolism; rehabilitation protocols; spontaneous arousal; wildlife rehabilitation; wildlife rescue.