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!
Brown, B. (1991) Recorder's reports for January-June 1991. Mammals. Tribulus
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,
Hellyer, P. (1992) Recorder's reports for July-December 1991. Mammals. Tribulus
Van den Brink, F.H. (1973) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Britain and
Europe. 3rd edition. Collins, London, pp 33-45.