Hedgehogs in Culture

Hedgehogs are not just the ‘gardener’s best friend,’ they are beloved throughout UK—in 2013 a BBC poll concluded that the hedgehog was the country’s most popular animal.  From video games such as Sega’s ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ to characters in Disney/Pixar’s ‘Toy Story 3’ and Sesame Street, hedgehogs have a definite place in popular culture, including appearances in such literary classics as Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and even a few of Shakespeare’s plays. 

Throughout history, hedgehogs have been the source of some weird and wonderful folklore, and are often depicted as being industrious, no-nonsense animals.  Some of our favourite stories are included below.

Hedgehog Folklore

A collection of some of our favourite pieces of hedgehog lore

The Sun and the Moon 

According to a Bulgarian legend, the Sun decided to marry the Moon and all of the animals were invited to the wedding. Everyone was in attendance, except for the hedgehog. When the Sun went to look for him, he found him gnawing on a rock. When the Sun asked what he was doing, the hedgehog explained, “I am learning how to eat rocks. Once you are married, you'll have many Sun children, and with so many Suns shining in the sky, everything will burn, and there will be nothing to eat.” The Sun then decided to call off the wedding, saving the world’s inhabitants from starvation

Heaven and Earth 

Myths in Lithuania, Latvia and Romania claim that God originally had mistakenly made Earth larger than the heavens.  Following a hedgehog’s suggestion, God then squeezed Earth, thereby creating mountain ranges, until it was small enough to fit within the heavens.  As a reward for its wisdom and cleverness, God gave the hedgehog a suit needles.

Fruit Gathering 

From Pliny the Elder’s ‘Naturalis Historia’ to 13th century manuscripts, hedgehogs are described as using their spines to impale fruits and then carrying them back to their lairs. In reality, hedgehogs do not gather and store food for future consumption, instead relying on built-up fat reserves to survive hibernation. Rather than carrying apples as a method of food storage, hedgehogs may use the juices of wild apples to defend against parasites, similar to anting behaviour in birds.           

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 3630, Folio 85r     

Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230) London

Snake Immunity

In European lore, hedgehogs were heralded for their alleged dominance against snakes.  In ancient Egypt, hedgehog imagery supposedly protected against snakebites, and in more modern legends they have been rumoured to be immune to snake venom.

This actually has some truth to it. If threatened by a snake, a hedgehog will curl up, erecting its spines. Snake fangs are shorter than the spines, so the snake can do no harm to the hedgehog and may even wound itself in the process. The hedgehog will then attack the fatigued or wounded snake by biting along its spine until it is dead.  If a hedgehog is bitten by a venomous snake, however, it is not immune and such a bite can prove fatal (though they do show heightened resistance to low venom doses compared to other animals).


Hans My Hedgehog

The Brothers Grimm, 1819 (Tale no. 108)

There was once a country man who had money and land in plenty, but however rich he was, his happiness was still lacking in one respect—he had no children. Often when he went into the town with the other peasants they mocked him and asked why he had no children. At last he became angry, and when he got home he said, "I will have a child, even if it be a hedgehog."

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