16 Fun Facts About Hedgehogs

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After cats, hedgehogs might be the internet's favorite animal. But how much do you know about these spiky mammals—other than how cute they look when getting a bath?

1. A GROUP OF HEDGEHOGS IS CALLED AN "ARRAY."

Hedgehogs poking around in the dirt.
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But it doesn't come up much, since hedgehogs are solitary creatures who usually come together only to mate.

2. HEDGEHOGS ARE ILLEGAL IN SOME PARTS OF THE UNITED STATES.

Hedgehog in a bucket with purple beads.
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The hedgie has gained some popularity as a pet—but some cities and states still qualify them as wild animals, which are not allowed to be kept domestically. These include Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New York City and Washington, D.C. In some areas, like Maine, you need permits in order to own one.

3. A HEDGEHOG HAS BETWEEN 5000 AND 7000 QUILLS.

Hedgehog in a garden.
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Muscles along the animal's back can raise and lower the quills to respond to threatening situations.

4. THERE ARE 17 DIFFERENT SPECIES OF HEDGEHOG, NONE OF WHICH ARE NATIVE TO AMERICA.

Two African hedgehogs.
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Australia also has no indigenous hedgehogs; the hedgies in New Zealand were introduced by humans.

5. HEDGEHOGS RELY ON HEARING AND SMELL BECAUSE THEY HAVE VERY POOR EYESIGHT.

Hedgehog looking for strawberries.
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And even their limited sight is best in the dark as an adaption to their nocturnal lifestyle.

6. UNLIKE PORCUPINE QUILLS, HEDGEHOG SPIKES ARE NOT BARBED, AND THEY'RE NOT POISONOUS.

A close-up of hedgehog quills.
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The inside of the quills are mostly hollow, with a series of complex air chambers that make them light but strong.

7. HEDGEHOGS GOT THEIR NAME FROM THEIR PREFERRED HABITAT—GARDEN HEDGES—AND THE PIG-LIKE GRUNTS THEY MAKE.

Hedgehog playing in purple flowers.
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Their taste for destructive insects makes them a historically welcome presence in English gardens.

8. HEDGEHOGS CAN HIBERNATE, BUT NOT ALL DO.

A hedgehog rolled up in a little ball on some leaves.
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Which makes them one of only three mammals in Great Britain that hibernate (the other two being bats and dormice).

9. HEDGEHOGS ARE LARGELY IMMUNE TO SNAKE VENOM.

Baby hedgehogs nursing on their mother.
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This means that, although their typical diet consists of insects and berries, they can take down a viper in a fight and eat it, too.

10. THE SEA URCHIN IS ACTUALLY NAMED AFTER THE HEDGEHOG.

A baby hedgehog lying in a human hand.
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Before the more adorable name came into use, the spiky mammals were called "urchins" throughout the Middle Ages, and thus inspired the name of the similarly spiky sea creatures. Baby hedgehogs are still called urchins.

11. MEDIEVAL BESTIARIES AND ILLUMINATED TEXTS SHOW HEDGEHOGS GATHERING FOOD WITH THEIR QUILLS.

Hedgehog with two cherries stuck on his quills.
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This is inaccurate. But affinity for the image has persisted.

12. IN THE PRECURSOR TO GROUNDHOG DAY, HEDGEHOGS WERE THE SUPPOSEDLY PORTENTOUS CRITTERS.

Hedgehog curled up on some pine branches.
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But when German settlers got to America and found no hedgehogs, they turned to the similar-enough groundhog for their winter-weather predictions.

13. IN NEW ZEALAND, A SATIRICAL POLITICAL PARTY TRIED TO GET A HEDGEHOG ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT.

Little hedgehog walking in fall leaves.
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The McGillicuddy Serious Party was unsuccessful with their tiny candidate.

14. THERE USED TO BE SUCH A THING AS THE INTERNATIONAL HEDGEHOG OLYMPIC GAMES (IHOG).

Hedgehog swimming in a pool.
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Events included sprints, hurdles, and floor exercises.

15. ONE OF THE LESSER-KNOWN BROTHERS GRIMM FAIRY TALES IS CALLED HANS-MY-HEDGEHOG, ABOUT A BOY WHO IS BORN HALF HEDGEHOG.

Two hedgehogs cuddled in the grass.
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Not your style? Try another Grimm tale, The Hare and The Hedgehog.

16. WHEN EXPOSED TO PUNGENT SMELLS OR TASTES, HEDGEHOGS EXHIBIT A BEHAVIOR CALLED "SELF-ANOINTING," IN WHICH THEY RUB FROTHY SALIVA ON THEIR QUILLS.

Hedgehog sleeping with a leg out.
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The purpose of this behavior is unknown.

A version of this list first ran in 2016.

What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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iStock

To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

8 Hair-Raising Facts About Black Cats

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iStock

No member of catkind is more maligned than the black cat. At best, they're bemoaned as lackluster photography subjects; at worst, they're seen as harbingers of really bad luck. But there's a lot to love about these furballs, as evidenced by the holidays in their honor—the ASPCA celebrates Black Cat Appreciation Day annually on August 17 and, across the pond, October 27 is National Black Cat Day—and the facts below.

1. IN SOME CULTURES, BLACK CATS ARE GOOD LUCK.

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They may have a less-than-stellar reputation in some areas of the world, but there are plenty of places where black cats aren’t bad luck at all. If you’re a single woman in Japan, owning a black cat is said to increase your number of suitors; if you’re in Germany and one crosses your path from right to left, good things are on the horizon.

2. THEY'RE A SAILOR'S BEST FRIEND.

Not only were cats welcome aboard British vessels to hunt mice, but sailors generally thought a black cat in particular would bring good luck and ensure a safe return home. A few of these kitties have been enshrined in maritime history, like Tiddles, who traveled more than 30,000 miles during his time with the Royal Navy. (His favorite pastime was playing with the capstan’s bell-rope.)

3. THERE IS NO ONE BLACK CAT BREED.

The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) recognizes 22 different breeds that can have solid black coats—including the Norwegian Forest Cat, Japanese Bobtail, and Scottish Fold—but the Bombay breed is what most people picture: a copper-eyed, all-black shorthair. The resemblance to a "black panther" (more on those animals in a bit) is no coincidence. In the 1950s, a woman named Nikki Horner was so enamored with how panthers looked that she bred what we now refer to as the Bombay.

4. BLACK CATS ARE AS EASILY ADOPTED AS CATS OF OTHER COLORS.

Black cat facts.
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It’s common to think that black cats in shelters are the last in line to find their forever homes, but a recent survey from the ASPCA suggests otherwise. Although euthanasia numbers for black cats were some of the highest, their total number of adoptions was the highest of any hue as well. The vet who conducted the study argues that there may just simply be more black cats than other colors.

5. THEIR COATS CAN "RUST."

A black cat’s color all boils down to a genetic quirk. There are three variants of the black fur gene (solid black, brown, and cinnamon), and the hue works in conjunction with the pattern. If a cat has a solid black hue, but also the dominant tabby stripe gene, heavy exposure to the sun can make the eumelanin pigment in its fur break down to reveal its once-invisible stripes (another potential cause: nutritional deficiency). What was once a black cat is now a rusty brown cat.

6. THE GENE THAT CAUSES BLACK FUR MIGHT MAKE THESE FELINES RESISTANT TO DISEASE.

Even though their coloring is what gives them a bad reputation, these felines may be getting the last laugh after all. The mutation that causes a cat’s fur to be black is in the same genetic family as genes known to give humans resistance to diseases like HIV. Some scientists think the color of these cats may have less to do with camouflage and more to do with disease resistance. They’re hoping that as more cat genomes are mapped, we may get a step closer to curing HIV.

7. YOU CAN VISIT A CAT CAFE DEVOTED TO BLACK CATS.

Step through the doors of Nekobiyaka in Himeji, Japan and get ready for your wildest cat lady dreams to come true. Black cats are the stars of this café and visitors are invited to pet (but not pick up) these lithe felines. Each of Nekobiyaka’s identical-looking black cats wears a different colored bandana to resolve any catastrophic mix-ups.

8. THEY'RE DIFFICULT TO PHOTOGRAPH—BUT IT CAN BE DONE.

A black cat is photographed against a blue-gray background
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The modern-day conundrum black cat owners face isn’t bad luck, but bad lighting. In a world filled with people sharing photos of their pets on Instagram, black cats can end up looking like a dark blob in photos. One photographer’s advice? Minimalist backgrounds, so your subject can stand out, and angling them towards natural light sources (but keep them out of bright sunlight!). If you're snapping pics on your iPhone, tap on your cat's face, then use the sun icon to brighten up the photo.

BONUS: BLACK PANTHERS HAVE SPOTS.

Technically, there is no such thing as a black panther—it’s a term used for any big black cat. What we call black panthers are in fact jaguars or leopards and yes, they have spots, too. Their hair shafts produce too much melanin thanks to a mutation in their agouti genes, which are responsible for distributing pigment in an animal’s fur. Look carefully and you can see a panther’s spots as the sunlight hits them in just the right way.

This article originally ran in 2016.

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