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Wroot (1984) hedgehog foraging in Europe

Title: Foraging in the European Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, Abstract for PhD study, University of London, 1984.

Authors:  A. J. Wroot

Country: UK

Background to study

A study into the feeding preferences of hedgehogs and how this is influenced by prey availability to ascertain whether hedgehogs are opportunistic or selective feeders. 

Method

  • The availability of prey on a golf course was determined using pitfall traps and formalin extraction of earthworms, during the summers of 1981 and 1982.
  • Hedgehog diets were investigated using faecal analyses and by determining the number of individuals of each species identified.
  • Comparisons between species and between diet and prey availability was carried out by converting numbers of individuals of each species directly into calories.

Key results

  • Carabid beetles were the most dominant species on the golf course, accounting for 50-85% of the total energy, but comprised of 10-14% of the diet of hedgehogs, apart from July 1982 when 60% of species observed in hedgehog faeces were carabid beetles.
  • Earthworms were eaten in direct proportion to their availability and was a direct function of the amount of rainfall with increasing proportions of earthworms being observed in hedgehogs diet with increasing rainfall.
  • Other major dietry items included slugs, moth caterpillars and tipulid larvae (leatherjackets).
  • Hedgehogs did not appear opportunistic in their feeding habits, they selected soft-bodied prey over carabid beetles, but when unavailable selected for carabid beetles.
  • On average, earthworms and other soft bodied prey contained 9 times more energy than carabid beetles.

Key messages to landowners and managers derived from these results

  • Habitat management to encourage soft bodied hedgehog prey, including caterpillars, slugs and earthworms is recommended to provide calorific food items for hedgehogs that will minimise ranging and energy expenditure.
  • Reducing or avoiding the use of pesticides on amenity grassland and in gardens is recommended to increase prey availability for hedgehogs.

 

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