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Those Amazing Quills

Of all of the features of your pet hedgehog, probably none stands out more than than the quills. When you really stop to think about it, they really are quite remarkable. They are the main means of defense that a hedgehog has against predators, but they serve some other rather useful purposes as well.

Physical Description of Quills

Although scientifically described as being modified hairs, each of the roughly 7000 quills on a hedgehog's back is far more complex than any hair possibly could be. Rather than being solid inside, each is filled throughout with complex network of air chambers. Not only does this make them very lightweight and strong, but it also helps to prevent buckling and breakage.
At the base, the quill narrows to a thin stem where it enters the skin and is firmly anchored in the muscle tissue by a small, ball-shaped follicle. At the opposite end, the quill narrows to a needle-like point and is bent slightly back to provide maximum defense should a predator be interested in having hedgehog for lunch!
Microscopic cut-away image of a quill. Photo courtesy of Shelley Small

Quills as Defense

When attacked, it is the contraction of the two large muscles that run down either side of the hedgehogs body that cause the quills to be raised in defense. When those two muscles are contracted, (much like pulling the draw strings on a purse) they pull against the ball-like base of the quill, drawing it into an upright position. Since the muscles pull different quills in different directions, they tend to crisscross one another, forming a near impenetrable barrier.

Other Uses

They are, however, not only there for defensive purposes. Hedgehogs are noted for being skilled climbers but, like cats, are not very good at getting themselves back down again! When they do come across a drop that they cannot climb down, they will simply roll into a ball and drop, allowing the spines to cushion the fall. To prevent the quills from being damaged or lost, the thin stem just above the skin flexes upon impact.
Although we do not recommend you try this at home, wild hedgehogs have been seen dropping from heights of up to 20 feet with no apparent signs of injury!

In their native environments, hedgehogs are noted snake killers and, once again, the quills come in quite handy for this as well. After having first grasped the snake with its teeth, they will drive their forehead quills into the snake, thereby killing it.

So, the next time you hold a hedgehog in your hand, take a closer look. The amazing design and beauty of these unique animals makes something as insignificant as a single quill something to marvel at!


For full article see Quilling

Quilling is the act of losing quills and replacing them with newer quills as a hedgehog ages. Quills may fall out of a number of reasons, so it should not always be assumed that quilling is the cause of lost quills.

A hedgehog quills numerous times over it's lifespan. Quilling often occurs at these time periods:
  • First quilling
    • 4 weeks (~1 month)
  • Second quilling
    • 6 weeks (~1.5 months)
  • Third quilling/Adult Color quilling:
    • 9 weeks (~2 months)
  • Adult quilling
    • 12 weeks (~3-5months)

Quilling is completely normal, and quills lost to quilling will retain their ball shaped follicle on one end. If the majority of the quills do not have a follicle on it, bring your hedgehog to the vet and have him tested for mites and fungus? as these can both cause quill loss.
The adult quilling can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks.

How to Help with Quilling

When a hedgehog has its final quilling at about 3-5 months, it may be very uncomfortable for the hedgehog. Thousands of tiny needles are trying to push through the hedgehog's skin, which can cause severe pain and irritation of his current quills are touched in any way.
Most hedgies will get grumpy during quilling and may not act like themselves.
There are a few things you can do to help your hedgehog with quilling, so do not fret:
  1. Give you hedgehog a luke-warm bath, just like you would regularly give them. This will help soften the skin and allow the quills to break through the skin, reducing a lot of the pain felt. Pour the water over your hedgie's back, and instead of ruffling him dry with a towel, use a hairdryer on the coolest setting.
    1. Also adding a cap full of olive oil to your hedgehogs rinse water will help moisturize the skin. Keep the oil water out of the face and ears.
  2. Do not put cloth on your hedgie's back. During this time it can cause pain and discomfort in your hedgie. Instead allow it to sit on something soft and talk to it, calmly letting it know he will feel better soon.
  3. Do not force your hedgie onto it's back or cause it to roll up, as this will irritate your hedgie's skin.
  4. During bonding time allow your hedgie to either run around or sleep in your lap, do not attempt to continuously pick it up or roll it around like you may usually do as this could make it grumpier


  1. Hedgehog Central - Those Amazing Quills (external link)

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Created by: admin Last Modification: Wednesday 15 of April, 2009 23:17:07 EDT by LilysMommy

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