Hedgehog Folklore

A collection of some of our favourite pieces of hedgehog lore

THE SUN AND THE MOON

According to a Bulgarian legend, the Sun decided to marry the Moon and all of the animals were invited to the wedding. Everyone was in attendance, except for the hedgehog. When the Sun went to look for him, he found him gnawing on a rock. When the Sun asked what he was doing, the hedgehog explained, “I am learning how to eat rocks. Once you are married, you'll have many Sun children, and with so many Suns shining in the sky, everything will burn, and there will be nothing to eat.” The Sun then decided to call off the

wedding, saving the world’s inhabitants from starvation


HEAVEN AND EARTH

Myths in Lithuania, Latvia and Romania claim that God originally had mistakenly made Earth larger than the heavens.  Following a hedgehog’s suggestion, God then squeezed Earth, thereby creating mountain ranges, until it was small enough to fit within the heavens.  As a reward for its wisdom and cleverness, God gave the hedgehog a suit needles.


FRUIT GATHERING

From Pliny the Elder’s ‘Naturalis Historia’ to 13th century manuscripts, hedgehogs are described as using their spines to impale fruits and then carrying them back to their lairs. In reality, hedgehogs do not gather and store food for future consumption, instead relying on built-up fat reserves to survive hibernation. Rather than carrying apples as a method of food storage, hedgehogs may use the juices of wild apples to defend against parasites, similar to anting behaviour in birds.           

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 3630, Folio 85r     

Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230) London


SNAKE IMMUNITY

In European lore, hedgehogs were heralded for their alleged dominance against snakes.  In ancient Egypt, hedgehog imagery supposedly protected against snakebites, and in more modern legends they have been rumoured to be immune to snake venom.

This actually has some truth to it. If threatened by a snake, a hedgehog will curl up, erecting its spines. Snake fangs are shorter than the spines, so the snake can do no harm to the hedgehog and may even wound itself in the process. The hedgehog will then attack the fatigued or wounded snake by biting along its spine until it is dead.  If a hedgehog is bitten by a venomous snake, however, it is not immune and such a bite can prove fatal (though they do show heightened resistance to low venom doses compared to other animals).


HANS MY HEDGEHOG 

In this fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, a wealthy merchant longs for a child, even if it’s a hedgehog. Lo and behold, he comes home to find that his wife has given birth to a son that is a hedgehog from the waist up.  Eventually, Hans My Hedgehog marries a princess and becomes a handsome young man. Read the full story here.

 

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