• Nature or Nurture?

    Written by Antigone Means-Burleson

    Some people believe that a hedgehog's temperament is all in it's genes, while others steadfastly insist that it all depends on handling. I cannot side with either side of this debate, as I believe the true answer falls somewhere in the middle.

    Just as human babies are born with some inherent personality characteristics, hedgehog babies seem to have some traits that are truly inborn. Some hedgehogs are just naturally more curious and outgoing, while others are naturally shy and easily startled. Having raised hedgehog babies for over six years now, I can definitely see where selecting parents based on friendliness has made a big difference in the personalities of our babies over time. In 1996, a good temperament was a baby who would only tightly ball up for a little bit. Now babies who tightly ball up at all are considered slightly below average temperament. I had the neat experience recently when my sister-in-law visited and went to play with the babies. She used to raise hedgehogs but had her last litter born about 4 years ago. When she saw how friendly the babies were, she cried at how wonderful and amazing the difference was from what she remembered.

    Handling babies is also very important. While I have seen some hedgies maintain an absolutely wonderful personality, even if they come from a situation of severe abuse and/or neglect, I have seen other hedgehogs for whom the handling makes all the difference. The most striking example that comes to mind for me is a hedgehog named Gizmo who came to us at nearly five years of age. She lived in a home with yappy dogs and was so "cranky" that her owners never saw her face and consequently figured she didn't want any handling. The owner brought Gizmo to visit me, to see if I could sex her, and was amazed when Gizmo not only unballed for me, but went happily zooming around my living room, stopping only to taste my curious toddler daughter's finger. The lady was so impressed, she insisted Gizmo join our family. Gizmo was never the hufflebutt in our household the way that she was in the previous one, and I believe that the quieter environment and gentle handling was what made the difference for her.

    Give the interaction between nature and nurture, it is very important that owners keep in mind that the best way to bring out the optimal temperament in a hedgehog is to carefully try to match the environmental response to the hedgehog's needs. An outgoing, friendly hedgehog can handle longer, noisier, more interactive handling. A shy, anxious hedgehog needs quiet, loving contact, or gentle talk and limited intrusion to help bring out its best. It's important to remember that all hedgehogs are not the same, and the way that we treat them can help them feel secure and happy in their home.