Dertie Lee, age 13, of Vidalia, Ga. for his question:
Is the hedgehog related to the porcupine?
The true hedgehog is not a native of the New World. He resembles our porcupine in that he has a prickly coat of spines but the two animals are not related. The hedgehog is a distant relative of the moles and the shrews. The porcupine is a rodent, which makes him cousin to the rats and mice, the squirrels and the beavers.
Long years ago, Andy had a true hedgehog for a pet. His name was Thornton and he was found under one of those leafy hedges which border the fields and meadows of England. Thornton was egg shaped and from the tip of his pointed snout to the end of his tiny, tiny tail he measured ten inches.
His long pointed face was rather mousey looking and covered with coarse, greyish brown hair. His sides and his humped back were covered with thorny, grey brown prickles. His underside was soft far and he scuttled along on four short legs and four tiny feet. When he chose, Thornton could walk about as fast as a two year old child.
As a rule, hedgehogs are shy animals and prefer to keep out of sight. Thornton, however, was a very friendly fallow and followed Andy wherever he could. Andy learned to pick him up, prickles and all, and the little fells seemed to enjoy it. A tap on the side, and he would roll into a ball with his prickles pointing this way and that. He was so light that Andy could hold him gently in his two hands without getting stabbed. By and by, Thornton would uncurl a little and peek out with his bright little eyes.
The hedgehog is a meat eater. He dines on insects, birds eggs, snakes and any other small animals he can catch. He is a fat fellow and many other animals like to eat him. When threatened, he rolls himself into a ball and the hungry fox or stoat gets no more than a nose full of prickles.
The porcupine has the long, strong gnawing teeth of the rodent. He is a vegetarian and very fond of clover and alfalfa. Our Mr. Prickles does not hibernate and in the winter his only food may be the bark from forest trees. His spines are much longer than those of the hedgehog and he may have 30,000 of them. Unlike the hedgehog, he has a sizeable tail, well armed with prickles. When threatened, he does not timidly roll into a ball not he. He arches his back, stands his prickles on end and gets ready to attack.
At the right moment he swings around and whacks the enemy full in the face with his prickly tail. The quills are all loosely set in the skin and when he strikes, some of them stick in the enemy’s face. When they pierce, little barbs poke up, pointing back from the tips, making it impossible to take out the quills without tearing the flesh. Even a mountain lion may slink off to die after a bout with Mr. Prickles.