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World’s oldest European hedgehog lived in Denmark

The oldest European hedgehog that ever lived has been identified in Denmark. The hedgehog was alive until the age of 16, which is seven years longer than the previous record holder.

Since the year 2000, hedgehog populations across the UK countryside have declined by at least 50 percent, according to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. 

Various projects have been launched to monitor the state of wild populations, including “The Danish Hedgehog Project” led by Dr. Sophie Lund Rasmussen of the University of Oxford. For the 2016 project, citizen scientists were asked to collect any dead hedgehogs they could find.

The goal of the research was to investigate the typical life expectancy of hedgehogs in Denmark. Overall, 697 specimens were collected by more than 400 volunteers. 

A subsequent analysis revealed that the oldest hedgehog in the sample was 16 years old – the oldest scientifically documented European hedgehog ever found. In addition, two individuals were found to have lived for 11 and 13 years. 

By contrast, the average age of the hedgehogs was only around two years. The researchers determined that 56 percent of the hedgehogs had been killed when crossing roads, 22 percent died at a rehabilitation center, and 22 percent died of natural causes. 

“Although we saw a high proportion of individuals dying at the age of one year, our data also showed that if the individuals survived this life stage, they could potentially live to become 16 years old and produce offspring for several years,” said Dr. Rasmussen.

“This may be because individual hedgehogs gradually gain more experience as they grow older. If they manage to survive to reach the age of two years or more, they would have likely learned to avoid dangers such as cars and predators.”

‘The tendency for males to outlive females is likely caused by the fact that it is simply easier being a male hedgehog. Hedgehogs are not territorial, which means that the males rarely fight. And the females raise their offspring alone.”

The researchers tested tissue samples to examine whether inbreeding had a negative impact on the life expectancy of the hedgehogs. The team was surprised to find that this was not the case. 

“Sadly, many species of wildlife are in decline, which often results in increased inbreeding, as the decline limits the selection of suitable mates. This study is one of the first thorough investigations of the effect of inbreeding on longevity,” said Dr. Rasmussen.

“Our research indicates that if the hedgehogs manage to survive into adulthood, despite their high degree of inbreeding, which may cause several potentially lethal, hereditary conditions, the inbreeding does not reduce their longevity. That is a rather groundbreaking discovery, and very positive news from a conservation perspective.”

The study is published in the journal Animals.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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