Us hedgehogs are ready to breed in the second year of our lives, and when we've started we can keep going every year until death. The hedgehog breeding season can start from around April (if we've got enough energy post hibernation, and the weather is warm enough), and run until September, however we are most active and amorous during 'the rut', which is during May and June; when the nights are nice and warm.
We males attempt to woo females, just like you humans. The wooing attempts can be lengthy encounters involving much close circling and rhythmic snorting, snuffling and puffing (you might call it dancing and chat up lines). If the lady plays hard to get, the dancing gets closer, and the chat up lines get louder!
As ever, there's often more than one suitor for any lovely lady, and the 'dancing and chatting up' can attract rival males to the party. If this happens the male 'in possession' will try and shoo the interloper away, however if they don't get the message, rival male suitors will often 'square up' to ensure they can have their lady all to themselves. Square-ups can involve head-butting, and also chases are not uncommon. The winner proves to his lady that he is a man worth mating with.
However, it's not always that 'simple'!! A high proportion of attempted hedgehog matings fail due to the female's lack of interest - us males must try harder! (She may even wander off in the middle of rival males squabbling!)
(Some studies have shown that we hedgehogs are promiscuous with both males and females often having several different mates in a single season.)
Having won over the lady, our reward is a sharp reception, and a prickly affair! Hedgehogs can't take our coats off, so we're stuck having to work with a needle sharp blanket.
Not surprisingly, the actual process of mating is a delicate operation - nobody wants to take a spike! Females have to adopt a special body position with spines carefully flattened. Unless the female places herself in this position, mating will be impossible; she must lie with her hind legs spread out, belly pressed flat to the ground and nose pointing upwards. The male mates with her from behind, gripping the spines with his teeth.
Mating may only last a minute or two, and then they will go their separate ways. The male plays no further part in bringing up the family, and if the hedgehogs ever meet again, it is probably only out of chance.
Gestation (AKA Pregnancy)
Hedgehog reproduction is not very efficient. The female often mates several times before becoming pregnant, and quite a few females may reach the end of the season without conceiving.
If mating is successful, mummy hedgehogs are pregnant for about four and a half weeks, with most baby hedgehogs being born in June and July.
Hedgehog Babies (Hoglets AKA Urchins)
Baby hedgehogs are mainly now known as Hoglets, but are also known as Urchins (and to some hedgehoglets or even piglets or pups) - don't be confused though, they are all just the same things.
Most baby hedgehogs are born in June and July, with an average litter size of four or five young, of which two or three make it through to weaning from mum.
When born, hoglets' spines are just below the skin, so they don't cause their mother pain. They are born blind, but after about 2 weeks their spines begin to show more, and their eyes open. Hedgehogs also have baby teeth, just like humans; these fall out after about 3 weeks.
Mummy hogs create a warm cosy nest in a quiet place so they can have their hoglets in peace, however, that doesn't always work out (particularly in human inhabited areas). If the nest is disturbed soon after the birth, the mother will either abandon her hoglets, or sometimes will eat them.
Please take care in your gardens during this time - check out the Hedgehog Habitat page for potential nest sites.
The hoglets feed on their mum's milk for the first 3 or 4 weeks. Hoglets leave their nests between about 3 and 5 weeks old to go on foraging trips with their mum, and they soon have to learn to fend for themselves; after around ten days of foraging with their mother the hoglets will wander off on their own.
Females are capable of having a second litter in late September or October but these young will face trouble putting on enough weight for hibernation, and are often unlikely to survive the winter. Such late litters mean juvenile hogs are still foraging around well into winter, sometimes in the day time and often looking underweight.
Please keep your eyes peeled for these litters!