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Do Hedgehogs Have Whiskers? What Are They Used For?

hedgehog walking

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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It’s easy to get distracted by a hedgehog’s spiky appearance and their cute little faces and completely miss the fact that they have whiskers. That’s right, hedgehogs do have whiskers, and it’s a good thing they do, too! A hedgehog’s whiskers play a vital role in all aspects of their survival, let’s find out how.

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What Are Whiskers, Exactly?

Whiskers may not seem like anything other than just longer, thicker hairs but for animals that have them, they are quite useful. Whiskers are modified hairs, also known as vibrissae or “tactile hairs” and most mammals have them at some point in their lives except for humans, the duck-billed platypus, and echidnas.

Whiskers do grow right out of the hair follicle, just like other hairs but they are much deeper, and the follicles are full of nerve cells and blood vessels. Whiskers work through the vibration that stimulates the nerves within the follicles.

Egyptian long-haired hedgehog held in hand
Image Credit: glennsontag, Pixabay

What do Hedgehogs Use Their Whiskers for?

Whiskers serve many useful purposes and work well in addition to a hedgehog’s other senses that are vital for survival. Let’s take a look at what kind of uses a hedgehog’s whiskers serve:

  • Navigation—Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals that are mainly active at night as they roam around foraging for food. Hedgehogs don’t have the best eyesight. After all, they don’t need to use their eyesight in the way that diurnal animals do. Whiskers are one of their sensory organs that assist in navigating throughout their environment.
  • Sensing the Presence of Others—The sensitivity of a hedgehog’s whiskers helps them sense even the smallest movement in the air. The vibrations picked up by the whiskers can alert them to potential predators or any other living being that lurks nearby.
  • Locating Food—Whiskers also can help a hedgehog locate food. Hedgehogs are omnivores that eat a diverse diet that does include some live prey. Whiskers not only help them navigate the landscape as they forage for food, but they can also help them pick up on potential prey items through the vibrational sense.
hedgehog on the log
Image Credit: Thanisnan Sukprasert, Shutterstock

A Hedgehog’s Senses

We’ve touched on how a hedgehog’s whiskers work and also how their eyesight is less than superior. But where the eyes fall short, their other senses make up for it.

Hearing

Hedgehogs don’t have very large ears, but they are very sensitive and perfectly positioned to pick up high-frequency sounds.  Hedgehogs can hear in a frequency range of 250 to 45,000 Hz, according to the Louisiana State University. Humans can hear low-range frequencies down to 64 Hz, showing you how limited a hedgehog’s low-frequency hearing abilities are, but they far exceed our maximum range of 23,000 Hz. This high-frequency hearing ability allows hedgehogs to pick up on potential predators and pretty items. Those that own pet hedgehogs may notice how sensitive these little guys are to unusual sounds. This level of hearing is also helpful in navigating their environments.

hedgehog in the wild
Image Credit: Coatesy, Shutterstock

Smell

Hedgehogs may have whiskers and a great sense of hearing to use in their favor, but nothing beats their cute little noses. A hedgehog’s sense of smell is their sharpest sense. Keepers will notice that when their hedgehogs wander about, those noses are hard at work sniffing all around. This is completely normal behavior, as these foragers use their sense of smell to let them know what’s going on all around them.

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Conclusion

A hedgehog’s whiskers are sensory receptors that help them find food, detect potential threats, and navigate throughout their environment as they forage. In addition to whiskers, hedgehogs also use their keen sense of smell and high-frequency hearing abilities to help them make their way through life.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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