Our Search Gallery has a new mammal! On Family Day (February 10, 2014), a hedgehog arrived at her new home that had been previously inhabited by Snowflake, our dearly departed guinea pig.
Poppy (named by recent Search Gallery donors, the Moon family) is a one-and-a-half year old African hedgehog. Hedgehogs are members of the mammal family. Their shrew-like ancestors lived during the time of the dinosaurs! Poppy's spines are modified hairs made of keratin with sharp, non-barbed tips. They poke but do not readily dislodge like a porcupine's quills. Hedgehogs have several thousand spines. When they feel threatened, they contract a series of strong muscles and curl up into a tight ball, with their spines sticking out in all directions.
In the wild, hedgehogs are opportunistic omnivores, feeding on insects, worms, snails and slugs. They occasionally eat larger animals like frogs, lizards and even scorpions and snakes, with no ill effects from toxins. When encountering new smells, hedgehogs exhibit a behaviour known as anointing, where they lick the source of the odour and then produce frothy saliva that they spread across their bodies. This behaviour is thought to be a strategy to help disguise themselves in new environments. Poppy was green for a few hours after anointing herself with newly encountered cilantro leaves!
Because Poppy is nocturnal, the best time to see her in action is in the late afternoon.