Desert hedgehog (Paraechinus aethiopicus)

Desert hedgehog
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Desert hedgehog fact file

Desert hedgehog description

GenusParaechinus (1)

A typical hedgehog in appearance, the desert hedgehog has a dense, spiny coat, an elongated snout, and the ability to curl into a defensive ball when threatened (5) (6). Its most distinctive feature is the contrasting dark muzzle and broad, white, spineless band across the face, which extends onto the flanks (2) (4) (7) (8). The ears are relatively short and rounded and, like other members of the genus, there is a naked patch on the forehead (2) (3) (4) (8) (9). The legs are long and dark (6) (7). The underside of the desert hedgehog is softly furred and is usually a mixture of black, brown and white (4) (7) (9), while the spines on the back are light-coloured, with two dark bands (4). In common with other member of the genus, overall colouration is quite variable, with some individuals almost totally white, and others completely dark (3) (4) (9).

Several subspecies of desert hedgehog are recognised (4) (10), and the species can be distinguished from the similar Brandt’s hedgehog (Paraechinus hypomelas) by its smaller size, lighter colouration and white face stripe (2).

Also known as
Ethiopian hedgehog.
Hemiechinus aethiopicus.
Head-body length: 15 - 25 cm (2)
Tail length: 1 - 4 cm (3)
Male weight: up to 435 g (4)
Female weight: up to 310 g (4)

Desert hedgehog biology

The desert hedgehog is active at night. A solitary species, it forages on the ground for a range of insect and other invertebrate prey, as well as occasional small vertebrates, the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds, and even species such as scorpions (3) (4) (6). It has also been reported to occasionally take plant matter, including fruit (11). The desert hedgehog enters hibernation between January and February, when temperatures are cooler (12), and may also become less active during the hottest months and when food is scarce (4) (11).

Breeding begins in March, after hibernation has ended (12). The female desert hedgehog gives birth to up to six young, in a burrow or concealed nest (3) (4), after a gestation period of around 30 to 40 days (2). The young are born deaf and blind, and with the spines located just under the skin, to prevent damage to the female during birth (5). The spines emerge within a few hours (5), and the eyes open after around 21 days (2). The young desert hedgehogs are weaned after about 40 days (3) (4). There is thought to be single litter each year (4).


Desert hedgehog range

The desert hedgehog is widely distributed across northern Africa, from Morocco and Mauritania in the west, to Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east. It also occurs in the Middle East and across most of the Arabian Peninsula, and may also occur on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, where it is thought to have been introduced (1) (3) (4) (9).


Desert hedgehog habitat

As its common name suggests, the desert hedgehog inhabits desert, dry steppe, and other arid terrain (1) (3) (4) (9). It may favour areas such as oases and vegetated wadis, where food is more readily available (1), and has also been recorded in gardens, cultivated areas and open woodland (11). In Egypt, the species has been reported to shelter in cliffs during the day (3).


Desert hedgehog status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Desert hedgehog threats

The desert hedgehog is reported to be a common species with a wide distribution and a large population. It is believed to be reasonably tolerant of habitat modification, and is not considered globally threatened (1). No major threats are reported for the species (1), although some note that increasing desertification within its range may be leading to the fragmentation of its populations (3) (5), and in some areas it may suffer mortality on roads (2).


Desert hedgehog conservation

The desert hedgehog is thought to occur in a number of protected areas. However, no specific conservation measures are in place for this species (1). As with many other, related insectivores, relatively little is known about the desert hedgehog, and there is still a need for considerable research into its ecology, behaviour and conservation (9).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Find out more

To find out more about the desert hedgehog and other hedgehog species, see:


  • Stone, R.D. (1995) Eurasian Insectivores and Tree Shrews: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Insectivore, Tree Shrew and Elephant Shrew Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
  • Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.


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A process of sustained decline of the biological productivity of arid and semiarid land; the end-result is desert, or skeletal soil that is irrecoverable.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
A winter survival strategy in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
Small, primitive and typically nocturnal mammals that feed on insects.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Natural grassland with low rainfall. In Africa this lies in the transition zone between savanna and severe desert.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  2. Alsharhan, A et al. (2008) Terrestrial Environment of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. Vriends, M.M. (2000) Hedgehogs. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.
  5. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  7. Roots, C. (2006) Hibernation. Greenwood Publishing Group, Conneticut.
  8. Vine, P. (1996) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press, London.
  9. Stone, R.D. (1995) Eurasian Insectivores and Tree Shrews: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Insectivore, Tree Shrew and Elephant Shrew Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
  10. ITIS (June, 2009)
  11. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  12. Al-Musfir, H.M. and Yamaguchi, N. (2008) Timings of hibernation and breeding of Ethiopian hedgehogs, Paraechinus aethiopicus, in Qatar. Zoology in the Middle East, 45: 3 - 9.

Image credit

Desert hedgehog  
Desert hedgehog

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