Episode 154 – Pygmy Hedgehog: The Adorable Pincushion

“…Today we’re talking about a prickly bush pig, though it’s not a pig at all. But more on that later.”

The cutest and most mild mannered animals often find themselves in the pet trade. But in the wild world of woodland creatures, cute doesn’t get you very far. For those creatures that tread the line between those two worlds, not fully domestic but harmless enough to live in homes, they may exhibit some behaviors that baffle their human household companions. These holdovers from their wild-kin show us a picture of their life in the wild. The adorable pygmy hedgehog may have some behaviors not dignified in civilized company, though they are vital for their survival in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Pygmy Hedgehog

  • It’s the classic adorable poke mouse that teenagers like to keep curled up in their oversized sweaters
  • It has an oval-shaped body with a tiny mousy face and little mousey people hands
    • However, it only has four toes on its hind legs instead of five, which is what most other hedgehogs have
  • It has beady black eyes and a little snout with small, rounded ears.
  • But it’s defining characteristic is the sheet of spikes that cover its back
    • We’ve done the spiked tenrec before, but take those spikes and double them.
  • The quills on the back are a mottled brown and cream mix while the underside is usually cream-colored. The snout is brownish-greyish

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro so that means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. Frog
  2. Turtle
  3. Mouse
  4. Hedgehog


  • 5 and 12 inches (13 and 30 cm)
  • How many hedgehogs go into the deepest dive into Boesmansgat, a cave in South Africa, also called Bushman’s Hole.
  • Hint: The cave is a submerged freshwater sinkhole that is thought to be first explored in modern times in 1977. The deepest recorded dive was achieved by scuba diver Nuno Gomes in 1996. The dive is tough because the hole starts at an altitude of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) and complicated decompression. 
  • 972 hedgehogs. The dive was 282.6 metres (927 ft). When Gomes reached the bottom of the hole, he got stuck in the mud for two minutes before freeing himself.


  • 14 and 39 ounces (400 and 1,110 g)
  • How many hedgehogs go into the heaviest pig in history?
  • Hint: The pig was named Big Bill, and he was a Poland-China breed. He was owned by a man named Elias Buford Butler and made record weight in Jackson, Tennessee in 1933.
  • 1,046.9 hedgehogs The pig weighed 1,157 kg (2,552 lb).

Fast Facts About the Pygmy Hedgehog


  • They’re all over the world as pets, but they’re native to a belt stretching across central Africa from Sierra Leone all the way to Somalia and Tanzania. From sea to pirate sea.
  • It loves grassy fields, open woodlands at low elevations. It prefers dry, warm places.


  • Bugs, grubs, snails, spiders, some plants, and even scorpions and snakes (it has a high tolerance for toxins)


  • Since it likes warm climates, it will go into estivation (rest, low metabolism) when it gets cooler and even hibernate when it gets really cold.
  • Sonic is nocturnal and usually spends its nights hunting alone
  • It has some tenacious predators including the eagle-owl, jackal, and the honey badger

Major Fact: Sticky Spines or Something

Hedgehogs have 5,000 spines that are made of keratin, the stuff hair, nails, and mammal horns are made of. They’re nearly hollow, though not as hollow as bones. Muscles on the hedgehog’s back allow them to smooth down their spines or make them stand up when they feel threatened. These semi-hollow spines are light but strong, acting as a pointy deterrent to predators. They don’t release barbed quills like a porcupine, but most predators would think twice about putting a spike ball down their throats.

You may have seen these adorable pincushions floating on their backs in bath tubs. They have a unique ability to do this because air pockets in the spines can turn their back into a little boat. In domestic life it serves the function of looking super cute. In the wild, I bet that ability comes in pretty handy in floods and puddles.

But that’s not the end of interesting stuff they do with their spines. They’ve also been known to practice something called self-anointing. No, they don’t declare themselves king by divine right, it means they rub aromatic substances all over their bodies. 

When they find a particularly strong smelling substance, they will shew it up and mix it into their own saliva until it’s a foamy liquid. Then they’ll spread the substance all over their spines. It’s not 100 percent clear why they do that, but the main theory is that it’s a defense mechanism. They’ve been observed doing this with bad tasting, pungent, or irritating substances like tobacco, soap, and fecal matter. Ostensibly, this would add to the aversion to eating a hedgehog. 

They also do this with poisonous substances like toxins found on frog skin. It’s possible that poisonous frogs are the main reason they developed this practice. However, hedgehog pet owners may be confused because they have also been observed doing this with food like dog treats and other things they might enjoy eating. However, it may be behavior born from a genetic instinct. Hedgehogs as young as 15 days old have been seen doing this using substances they find on their mother’s spines. 


Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube

Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.

Thank you to Nora who suggested the pygmy hedgehog!