Nature Notes

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BY NOW hedgehogs should be safely tucked up for the winter in nests of leaves under sheds, bushes or piles of brushwood. Gardeners proposing to burn up old heaps of rubbish should first make sure that nobody has taken up residence in them during the past few weeks.

Providing a hedgehog can put on enough weight in autumn, it should survive until the spring, living on its body fat. When it curls up in a ball to hibernate, the temperature of its extremities falls to that of the environment, and its respiration slows to only five or six breaths a minute. Like bees, the animals are best served by frost and snow: so long as the weather stays cold, they remain dormant, but when the air warms up, they are likely to come round and venture forth - only to find that there is little food about, their normal diet being worms, caterpillars, beetles, slugs and so on.

Hedgehogs have been known to live for 10 years, but many die before their first birthday, and average life expectancy is only two or three years. Their worst enemies are foxes, which kill them in spite of their defensive prickles, and cars - thousands of the animals are squashed on the roads every year.

Duff Hart-Davis