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'Something Very Wonderfully Strange'

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by Michael P.T. Gillett

The following article appeared in the Al Ain Newsletter of November 1992

During the late morning of 2nd September 1992, several of my colleagues and I were called from our offices in the Department of Biochemistry to witness "something very wonderfully strange" that had been found in the garden of our villa. As we approached, I could see that this "marvelous apparition" was an animal and undoubtedly a species of hedgehog.

Closer examination revealed that this was an example of Brandt’s hedgehog (Paraechinus hypomelas), as the black coloration of head, spines and limbs, the short legs and large ears are distinctive characteristics of this species. Somewhat surprisingly, the skin beneath the spines was entirely creamy-white and shining. However, the ears were pigmented, but even these appeared more pinkish than black. This is indicative of the fact that the large ears of this species are richly provided with blood vessels; circulation of blood through which allows the animal to dump heat and this helps it to regulate its internal temperature. A similar temperature-control strategy has evolved in other desert animals, most notably in the Fennec fox, Rupell’s sand fox, and various jerboas. However, I wonder whether the ears of this hedgehog are sufficient in size to allow efficient thermo-regulation in this climate. I cannot help thinking of the black spines, which have their own blood supply and erupt from such a pale and reflective skin, and that they, themselves, must be good radiators of heat.

The hedgehog seen was about 20 cm long and probably represented a juvenile or young adult. Exact measurements and observations were not possible since, as soon as the animal was approached, it rolled itself up into a tight misshapen ball. In this state it presented an unbroken array of sharp spines which would deter most causal predators. Certainly, I was unable to prise open these defenses in order to get a better look at the animal, nor was it possible to determine its sex. One pleasing feature of this little hedgehog was that its skin was remarkably clean and free from vermin; quite a contrast from the Western (European) hedgehogs (Erin aceus europaeus) which have passed through my hands!

This is the second novel species of hedgehog that I have seen this year. In July, I found an example of the Eastern hedgehog (E. concolor) under dead vegetation in the bed of a dried-up stream on the island of Crete. This latter animal is very like the Western hedgehog, except for having a white breast. It occurs throughout Eastern Europe to Palestine and Iran, but does not extend its range into Southern Arabia. Two other species are of note. The Vagrant or Algerian Has a tenuous foothold in Southern Europe, with its main range extending right across North Africa, but, alas, it does not reach our region. The Ethiopian hedgehog (P. Aethiopicus), although an African species, does occur in the Gulf region. It is smaller and much lighter in color than Brandt's hedgehog and has longer legs and smaller ears. Recent records from the Abu Dhabi ENHG suggest that the Ethiopian hedgehog is commoner than Brandt's species in the Emirates.

Our hedgehog was released at the back of the Jimi Mosque Villas gardens where I hope it will stay. Should it roam too far away, the roads are a dangerous place for these charming creatures whose only mode of defense is to roll themselves up into a ball at the approach of danger!

References:

Brown, B. (1991) Recorder's reports for January-June 1991. Mammals. Tribulus 1.2; 33.

Corbet, G. & Ovenden, D. (1980) The Mammals of Britain and Europe. Collins, London, pp. 120-128.

Gross, C. (1987) Mammals of the Southern Gulf. Motivate Publishing, Dubai, pp. 66-67.

Hellyer, P. (1992) Recorder's reports for July-December 1991. Mammals. Tribulus 2.1; 29.

Van den Brink, F.H. (1973) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Britain and Europe. 3rd edition. Collins, London, pp 33-45.


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