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A prickly pair

Jenny Elliott recalls a pair of unexpected visitors last autumn

This photo shows Spike being held by my husband the morning after his arrival - complete with earthworm for breakfast. It also shows just how small he was.

This photo shows Spike being held by my husband the morning after his arrival – complete with earthworm for breakfast. It also shows just how small he was.

We returned home very late one evening at the end of October to find a baby hedgehog on our doorstep. It was wet through and so cold it couldn’t curl up. It was very obviously badly underweight as well as being chilled to the bone and was not going to make it through the night without help. I put it in a box on a hot water bottle and placed it in the airing cupboard. The next problem was that I had nothing suitable to feed it on should it recover enough to eat. This problem was solved by digging up earthworms at midnight by torchlight. The neighbours probably thought I had lost the plot! I left it in the airing cupboard overnight with a pot of worms and some water. When I checked on it in the morning I was expecting it to be dead but much to my amazement it had eaten all the worms and had tucked itself inside the hot water bottle cover.

Time for Spike to be weighed again

Time for Spike to be weighed again

I sought some advice the next day and was told they have to be 500-600gms to be able to survive hibernation. This poor little creature weighed in at 250gms. After getting some more handy tips on hedgehog care I purchased a large box, a heat mat and some cat meat, kibble and meal worms. The new arrival was named Spike. A week later he was doing really well and had settled into his new home.

Hatty shortly after her arrival. Her spines were muddy and she was very cold

Hatty shortly after her arrival. Her spines were muddy and she was very cold

At about that time one of our neighbours and her friend knocked on our door late in the evening clutching a box. On closer inspection it contained another underweight hedgehog. I had hoped that Spike would be prepared to share his accommodation but he made it very obvious that he had no compassion for his fellow hedgehog so I had to purchase another set up for the latest arrival. This one I named Hatty, she weighed slightly more than Spike but was still far too small to hibernate. These late-born hedgehogs perish unless they are taken in and helped through the winter. The two I took in were weighed regularly and to my relief gained weight really well.

When I first saw Hatty like this I thought she was ill but soon discovered she liked this position so she could warm her tummy on the heat mat

When I first saw Hatty like this I thought she was ill but soon discovered she liked this position so she could warm her tummy on the heat mat

 

Hatty fully plumped up

Hatty fully plumped up

By March I was preparing to set them free – the plan was to put boxes in the garden into which I would put their beds. For the first week they would be penned in to get them used to their new surroundings and where to find food. After this period the pen would be taken down and they would be able to roam at will.

Spike exploring a flowerpot full of dead leaves

Spike exploring a flowerpot full of dead leaves

I continued to put food down should they decide to stick around and, whilst it was very sad to lose them, I felt very fortunate to have had their company all winter. Confined spaces are alien to a hedgehog’s natural behaviour. They can cover distances of up to two kilometres every evening. I simply had to wish them a fond farewell and hope they keep safe. ◗

Spike off into the big wide world

Spike off into the big wide world

 

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