Pudgy, snub-nosed, totally cute and only slightly prickly. Can there possibly be such a thing as too many hedgehogs? Apparently, the answer is yes, at least for small islands like the Hebrides west of Scotland, where hedgehogs only recently arrived.
And yes, this story is filed under climate change because the author traces a possible looming hedgehog bonanza as one nightmarish offshoot of the coming global warming. Now, I don’t normally like to poke fun at global warming alarmists – I mean, what’s alarmist about standing in a burning building and pulling the fire alarm? But he may be stretching things a bit here.
Nevertheless, introduced hedgehogs don’t confine themselves to politely rummaging under privet bushes. On tiny islands like South Uist they barge around like they own the place, cracking shorebird eggs with their little nubbin teeth and sucking out the contents. Their natural predators, foxes and badgers, are absent from the island, so apart from the odd death by recklessly driven Mini or wobbly hedgehog syndrome, there’s no stopping them.
A Journal of Zoology paper by the (aptly named) Digger Jackson estimated about 2,700 adult hedgehogs on the island and found up to 32 per square kilometer in some pastures. Come springtime, all that concentrated adorableness creates quite a bustle in your hedgerow, as adults churn out some 3,000 youngsters each year.
Most young die over the long, harsh North Atlantic winter, rendering the hedgehog population something of an annual crop, like arugula. But the Hebrides have warmed at an average rate of 0.06 degrees C per year over the last 20 years. With milder winters, earlier springs and warm, insect-filled summers, the author reports, hedgehog populations could be on the rise.
Image: hedgehog coffee mug by Judie Peters, on cafepress