War and love
War and love
It was 9.20pm and Stripe, always the first to arrive on our lawn, was peacefully munching away at the pile of hedgehog food left out for him and his kind, when another, slightly larger, hog appeared from the border. Immediately Stripe raised his head, sniffed the air and then charged. The larger animal just had time to curl into a tight ball before it was buffeted and rolled for a couple of yards by repeated head-butts. Stripe then marched back to finish his supper. Hedgehogs are by nature solitary creatures. They avoid each other if possible; if they do meet, freeze, flight or fight are the options available, and I know from two years’ observations that Stripe always chooses to fight, even when his opponent is bigger and heavier. He invariably wins.
This state of mutual antagonism makes courtship a rather tricky business. For such a prickly species mating is only possible when the female is fully co-operative. An old joke sums it up well: Question: How do hedgehogs mate? Answer: Carefully!
I was, therefore, delighted when I looked out of the window on a fine evening last month to see a pair already engaged in courtship, hedgehog behaviour which I had read about but never actually observed. I must confess that, to an observer, it is a long drawn out, some might say tedious, process. The male, a large, lighter-coloured animal, was circling the smaller, darker-coloured female, close to but not touching her. Round and round and round he went; then reversed directions and round and round the other way, his movements steady, mesmeric, surprisingly sinuous for such a chunky animal. She crouched in the middle of his circle, nose pressed down into the grass, and, as he circled she rotated on the spot in tiny twitchy jerks – reminding me of the minute hand of an old-fashioned station clock – always keeping her head pointing to his flank. Apparently courting hedgehogs make a great deal of snorting, snoring noise – even waking their favoured garden-owners in the middle of the night – but when I crept outside to listen my pair were completely silent, though I imagine their antics create a cocoon of their combined scents.
My reference books tell me that this can go on for hours. I checked every twenty minutes or so from 9.00pm to 11.00pm and they were still revolving when I retired to bed! He only took two short breaks – one for a quick snack, the other to barge off another hedgehog which strayed onto the lawn. Hedgehog gestation period is four to five weeks and the young remain in the nest for another four, so it will be mid-June before I can look for confirmation of a successful mating.