Small, brown and covered in spines, hedgehogs are loveable creatures that we all love to see in our gardens. They’re wild animals, and should therefore not be kept captive, as it doesn’t suit them.

But did you know that hedgehogs have a hidden secret skill? For a creature that likes to curl up into a ball or snuffle through your flowerbed, you wouldn’t think that swimming would be something they’re much good at, but they’re actually very good in the water!

This doesn’t mean you should go picking them up and dunking them in the nearest body of water, however, as it’s more of a practical skill as opposed to something they like to show off.

Can hedgehogs swim? The answer is very much a yes, so let’s take a look at why – and how – they do it.


Why do hedgehogs need to swim?

There are many reasons that hedgehogs need to swim in the wild. Here are four reasons you might find a hedgehog in water:

Foraging: Since hedgehogs need to find food, being able to access different areas can be a huge benefit. This is especially true in autumn as they begin to create fat stores to get them through the winter. If a hedgehog can safely travel across a small body of water, it might find a whole new world of slugs, bugs and other small prey that make up its diet.

Survival: As with most creatures in the wild, the hedgehog is at risk from predators. This is usually creatures bigger than them, such as foxes, badgers, dogs and even us humans, but birds also pose a risk – owls and hawks pose a threat to smaller, young hedgehogs. In order to escape from a predator in the wild, a hedgehog may need to swim away across the water to seek shelter elsewhere, making swimming an essential survival skill.

Exploration: Part of a hedgehog’s life will be an exploration of their surrounding territory. This is a combination of the two factors already mentioned: survival and food, but there’s a third element to this dispersal into other regions: breeding. For them to find a mate and keep hedgehog population figures up, a hedgehog may need to travel further afield by crossing small streams or other waters.

Rehabilitation: Since swimming is a great mobility exercise for hedgehog bodies – the same as for human bodies – you might get sight of hedgehogs being placed in warm water to allow them to stretch their legs. It’s great exercise and it can be used to help treat injured hedgehogs in the wild. However, this should only be performed by professionals with experience in rehabilitating them.

How are hedgehogs able to swim?

Now you know the reasons why a hedgehog might swim, you’re probably wondering how they manage it. To look at the European Hedgehog, you wouldn’t imagine that they’re so adept at taking to the water. Here’s how they manage to not only stay afloat but get to where they want to go:

Buoyancy: One feature that hedgehogs naturally have on their side is their spines. Yes, they’re great as a defence mechanism, but did you know their spines are also hollow? This trapped air gives their shield a natural buoyancy that is useful in the water. If you see a hedgehog floating, now you know how they do it!

Four legs: Any creature with four legs can probably perform some sort of paddling motion. Hedgehogs are great at this, with their little legs able to propel them through the water in a coordinated effort.

Their head: With a long snout, the hedgehog’s head can help point the right direction forward and help them to breathe while they cross the water. It’s also important to have their head above water to spot any potential dangers too.

Short swims: Of course, with such small bodies, there is a limit to the distance a hedgehog can swim. They like to be energy-efficient, so they’ll do short swims when it’s really necessary so that they don’t risk becoming exhausted while in the water.

Can a hedgehog swim in my pond?

Hedgehogs are capable swimmers, but a pond may not be the best place for them to go for a dip. That’s because most ponds, water features and even swimming pools don’t come with a low edge for them to climb out of.

With such short legs, hedgehogs are only able to scramble over a short obstacle. In the wild, a stream or body of water will have a natural shallow area where it meets land. There will also be rocks and branches to help them get out. These aren’t things that ponds always have so here are some ways to help:

  • Create escape routes out with ramps if you have a pond and know hedgehogs like to visit.
  • Put a barrier around the pond to prevent hedgehogs from getting into your pond.
  • Keep a shallow end to your pond.
  • Cover the pond with a mesh or netting so that hedgehogs can’t fall in.
  • Put out a fresh water bowl for any hedgehogs who might just be looking for a quick drink.
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