First Line of Defense
- When a hedgehog senses danger, or is uncertain about something in its environment, its first line of defense is to ball up. This classic hedgehog trait is made possible by the orbicularis muscle, which runs along the edge of its body.
- In order to ball up, a hedgehog tightens this muscle, which acts like a drawstring. This enables the hedgehog to hide its head, belly, feet, and legs in a prickly coat of erect spines.
- A balled-up hedgehog may also snuffle, huffle, snort, or pop in order to seem scarier and more menacing to potential dangers.
- An obese hedgehog may not be able to roll into a tight ball. This is a sure sign that the hedgehog needs a change in its diet, supervised with veterinary care.
- Hedgehogs that are sick, injured, cold, or lethargic may not be able to unroll, or they may not be able to ball up. These hedgehogs need immediate veterinary attention.
- Hedgehogs will also ball themselves up when they are falling, to cushion the impact of their fall. Their tuck and roll characteristic is similar to that of paratrooper, and gives them a sense of fearlessness when falling.
- Even though the quills act as a natural shock absorber, the hedgehog can still be injured from its fall. The quills can actually puncture inwards and injure the hedgehog, so it is always better to prevent falling, even if a hedgehog does not seem to mind it.
- Hedgehogs are defending themselves as best as they can when they are balled up, but this does not protect them from human cruelty.
- Some hedgehog owners may think that their hedgehog “likes to be rolled” while it is in a ball. Hedgehog experts will disagree with this practice.
- Again, when a hedgehog is in a ball, it is trying to protect itself. Please be sensitive to your hedgehog and try to make your pet more comfortable, rather than perpetuate its feelings of insecurity.
Contributors: Jamie Hand, MaryLynn McDermott