Since 2018 Irene Hoppe has been writing her master thesis in the project Roadkill to road-killed hedgehogs in Vienna. Today she gives us an insight into her fascinating research object, the hedgehog.
With their unmistakable appearance, hedgehogs (Erinaceidae) probably belong to the best known mammalian family. Probably everyone has already experienced how the animals curl up to protect themselves and present their spines when danger is imminent. In the old world (Europe, Africa and Asia) hedgehogs are widespread. There are several species of hedgehogs. There are two species in Austria: the Northern White-breasted Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus) and the Brown-breasted Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). The brown-breasted hedgehog is classified by the Federal Environment Agency as "potentially endangered" in the Red List of endangered species of Austria (status 2005).
Hedgehogs belong to the Insectivora order and are therefore closely related to moles and shrews. In addition to beetles, caterpillars and earthworms, snails are at the top of the menu. So they are often observed in gardens and parks, when they are looking for food there. However, this usually happens in the twilight-time and night, since they are predominantly night-active creatures. In winter, from about October to March, hedgehogs are rarely seen, as they usually hibernate. The length of hibernation varies depending on various factors, such as climatic conditions, the hedgehog's physical condition and sex. Hedgehogs live solitary and in solid territories, which can also overlap. The preferred habitat is small-scale, varied, i.e. structurally rich, areas where the animals find both food and hiding places. This includes landscapes with bushes and trees, fallow land with hedges, species-rich rough meadows as well as gardens and parks. Intensively used agricultural areas as well as coniferous wood monocultures do not offer this possibility, so that they often live in the outskirts of villages and towns. Hedgehogs are particularly at risk on the roads. They are among the most frequent mammalian road victims. So far 1000 hedgehogs have been reported via Roadkill, in Austria alone more than 800. That is about one fifth of all reported animals! Particularly for local isolated hedgehog populations, roads can strongly impair the survival probability, as in addition to mortality, genetic exchange between populations is hampered. Most of the hedgehogs that were road-killed were reported in the month of May. At this time hedgehogs are in the middle of their mating season and therefore cover longer distances. Slower and more careful driving, especially at dusk and at night during this time, can reduce hedgehog roadkill.
Irene Hoppe is Master-student at the Institute of Zoology at the UNiversity of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna and studies "Wildlife ecology and wildlife managament".