"Touch me, and I will impale you so hard your grandchildren will perforate!"
It's morbid, but you might hear that if the puffing white pin-cushion could talk instead of hiss. The defensive "huffing" isn't just show: this spiny tank bleeds with immunity to snake venom, and devours any animal smaller than itself.
"In the wild, they kill cobras," the pet store worker tells me.
While the African pygmy hedgehog I poked probably never saw "the wild," varying species of hedgehog range free everywhere in the Old World continents, including the famous home of the cobra, India. In 2009 hedgehogs in Hebrides devastated the island bird populations, attracting animal control specialists armed with lethal injections. The British Hedgehog Protection Society reports today that hedgehogs thrive even in urban habitats; the Society promotes "hedgehog-friendly" gardening information to encourage this survival. Whether a menace or an attraction, free-roaming hedgehogs rule their habitats with fierce spunk.
The up-for-adoption African pygmy hedgehog I met at the pet store had suffered six months of neglect, making him more fierce than spunky. Hedgehogs are natural loners--even a male/female pair should never be housed together without supervision--but they warm up, I was told. Taken with the urchin and unable to resist the challenge, I bought the neglected animal. A t-shirt in the cage became my scented diplomacy, and within a few weeks the hedgehog became comfortable with my smell. Eventually, he began to play with me and eat from my hand.
Even now, my hedgehog huffs every now and then just to show his impressive spines, reminding me that underneath the cuteness pumps a heart full of poison resistant blood. This fist-sized animal demands respect--something not a lot of pets get these days.
And while his ferocity is humorous, respect is definitely something hedgehogs deserve.