Hedgehogs are instantly recognisable by their quills or spikes as they are sometimes known.
These quills are what makes the hedgehog unique from nearly all other animals on the planet.
Yet little is actually known about the quills of the hedgehog and why they actually need them?
In this post, we will answer all your questions regarding hedgehogs and their quills including…
What Are Hedgehog Quills?
The first place to start this post is by actually identifying what hedgehog quills actually are.
The quills or spines of a hedgehog are actually modified hairs. The outside of the quill is a fibrous cortex that covers a spongy matrix according to the experts at Veteriankey.
Where the base of the quill embeds itself into the skin of the hedgehog, it tapers to form a cup-shaped bulb.
This, in turn, enables the quill to become flexible and strong at the same time.
The spines are also very difficult to remove from the hedgehog and will usually snap mid shaft rather than being removed from the root or skin.
What Do Hedgehog Quills Look Like?
This may seem self-explanatory but the quills of a hedgehog will look slightly different depending on the breed of the hedgehog.
The quills of the African pygmy hedgehogs, which are the most common domesticated hedgehog are actually white at the tip and base with a black and brown band in the middle section of the quill. Source:
The colour of the band in the middle section of the quill can be either lighter or darker depending on the breed of the hedgehog and their geographical location.
Here’s a close up of a hedgehog quills…
What Is The Job Of a Hedgehog’s Quills?
The primary job of a hedgehog’s quills is for protection.
The spines of a hedgehog are fixed and don’t remove easily unlike the spines of a porcupine.
This means the spine of the hedgehog is used as more of a passive body armour than a weapon.
Hedgehogs curl up into a ball and cover themselves completely by their spikes when they feel threatened by a predator.
Hedgehogs do have the option to run away if needed but if truth be told they aren’t the fastest runners when compared to other animals of the same size.
This means using their ability to curl up into a ball and protect themselves with their quills as a survival technique is usually their only hope of surviving against a much larger and faster predator.
Out of other similar sized animals, hedgehogs are actually the slowest runners.
Check out the table which shows the average running speed for small animals…
Hedgehogs Vs Other Animals | Who's The Fastest?
|Guinea Pig||6 mph|
As you can see from the table above, hedgehogs are bottom of the chart when it comes to running speed so it’s important that they have another means of defending themselves.
The quills of the hedgehog actually have some other important jobs too…
- Protecting the hedgehog from impact
- Helping the hedgehog to swim
The way that the hedgehog’s quills are embedded into their skin along with their flexibility enables them to also be protective to the hedgehog in other situations too.
If any force is applied to the quills of the hedgehog either through a fall or from a predator, the quills will absorb most of the shock as they band and the hedgehog won’t feel much of the impact.
The quills also contain lots of tiny air-filled chambers. These little air pockets help to keep the hedgehog afloat when they are in the water.
You can find out all you need to know about letting your hedgehog swim safely and how you can easily make this a regular part of your hedgehog’s playtime by checking out our simple guide here.
Do Hedgehogs Have Quills When They Are Born?
Hedgehogs are actually born with a set of quills. These are different from the quills that they will have as an adult.
The quills that hedgehogs have at birth are a set of while, soft quills, although they slowly harden up within a few hours of birth.
After 2 days the baby hedgehog or hoglet will get a second set of quills that are darker and harder than the set they were born with.
Just in case you’re wondering…
The spines of baby hedgehogs are covered with a fluid-filled membrane that helps to protect the mother during birth.
Do Hedgehogs Lose & Regrow Their Quills?
Hedgehogs actually lose their quills naturally all the time. Each quill will last anything up to 18 months before it’s replaced for a newer quill.
In addition to this, young hedgies will lose their quills between the age of 2-6 months old. Source:
This process is completely natural and usually takes around 1 month to complete, this is often referred to as ‘quilling’.
While the hedgehog is in the process of losing and replacing their quills, they can become irritable and have a decreased appetite.
This can be followed up by grumpy behaviour such as hissing and more. It’s important to give a hedgehog some time and space if they are going through this process and resist overhandling.
How Many Quills Do Hedgehogs Have?
Every hedgehog will have a slightly different number of quills depending on its size and genetics too.
With everything considered, the average number of quills that an adult hedgehog has is around 5,000. This number is backed up by San Diego Zoo who stated this number in a recent article they wrote about hedgehogs.
These quills are repeatedly being replaced on an 18-month basis as we mentioned above.
How Big Are Hedgehog Quills?
The quills of a hedgehog are usually fairly equal in both diameter and length and even though they will differ slightly from hedgehog to hedgehog, they roughly measure the same size.
The average adult hedgehog has quills that measure from 0.5cm – 2cm long.
Do Hedgehog Quills Hurt?
The only time that a hedgehog’s quills can hurt you is if you try and pick them up when they are curled up in a protective ball, if you don’t do this then you will be just fine.
The first thing to remember is that hedgehogs have quills for the primary reason of protecting themselves.
This means that they have the potential to hurt any predator or anything they consider a danger if they feel threatened.
When a hedgehog curls up into a ball it tenses it’s back muscles and flexes its spikes in a crisscross pattern with the purpose of creating a shield of quills that can hurt if anybody or anything tries to attack them.
As long as you give your hedgehog time to uncurl and relax then the quills pose no real danger and they won’t hurt you if you pick them up.
When a hedgehog is calm, comfortable and relaxed it’s quills point backwards a little like hair that’s slicked back.
You can brush your hand from front to back and not feel a single spike.
As long as the hedgehog is comfortable with you then you can pick them up with no problems and give them a cuddle.