Mitchell Fairhurst of Abbotsford asks :-

Do hedgehogs hibernate and how should I care for one?

Phil Bishop, a zoologist at Otago University, responded.

Hedgehogs were first introduced to New Zealand in the early 1870s from Britain to remind the early settlers of their homeland and as natural predators of garden pests.

Hedgehogs do hibernate in New Zealand once the ground temperature drops below about 10°C. The hedgehogs have to reach a weight of at least 300gm before they can survive hibernation. They try to find protected areas for their winter nests, like under compost heaps, or under garden sheds, and once enough fat has been laid down on their belly and back they enter a state of hibernation.

During this period, the heart slows to about 20 beats per minute, their body temperature can drop as low as 1°C and they may not breathe for periods as long as an hour. Hibernation can last for several months depending upon the outside temperature during which time the hedgehogs remain almost motionless. It is a very dangerous time for young or underweight hedgehogs and many of them do not make it through to spring.

In the wild hedgehogs are the gardeners friend as they eat mainly invertebrates, like grass grubs, slugs, snails, beetles, millipedes, spiders and earthworms. However, they have also been observed to eat frogs, moths, weta and have been reported as predators of native birds eggs.

In captivity hedgehogs can be kept on a diet of dried cat food and although they will eat bread and milk, this is not a recommended diet. If you would like to keep one as a pet it would be best to turn your garden into an enclosure and allow it free-range of your garden. They are nocturnal and are usually only seen moving around at night and can get very irritated if disturbed during the day. Although they do not normally bite, they do tend to roll up in a defensive ball and shudder if you touch them trying to prickle you with their spines.