Hedgehogs in Culture - Europe

Europe

As animals native to Europe, s hold a rightful place in European folklore. Since the mammal did not possess any "righteous" qualities, it never made it to the court art; however, its relationship with fairy tales has been a long and fruitful one.

In most European countries, hedgehogs are believed to be a hard-working no-nonsense animal. Due to this, many fictional characters are often given "Hedgehog" traits and forms, famously within the TV Series Sherlock and the secondary character of John Watson. This partially results from the folk belief that hedgehogs collect apples and mushrooms and carry them to their secret storage. It is unclear exactly how old this belief is, though the Roman author Pliny the Elder mentions hedgehogs gathering grapes by this method in his Naturalis Historia. In medieval bestiaries and other illuminated manuscripts dating from at least the 13th century onwards, hedgehogs are shown rolling on and impaling fruit to carry back to their dens. In fact, however, hedgehogs do not gather food to store for later consumption, relying on their deposited fat to survive hibernation. Nor is apple included in their usual diet (it has been suggested, however, that the hedgehogs may use juice of wild apples in order to get rid of parasites, similar to anting). The image remains an irresistible one to modern illustrators. Therefore, hedgehogs are often portrayed carrying apples - partially, to make them look cuter.

Hedgehogs are often pictured as fond of milk, while in reality, they are lactose-intolerant.

They are also often seen in pictures with an autumn-themed background, since the animal hibernates in piles of leaves. This also adds to the cute reputation of hedgehogs. In Great Britain, however, the human habit of lighting bonfires to celebrate Bonfire Night on November 5 has led to an increased risk to hedgehogs, who often choose to sleep in the piles of wood accumulated in gardens and parks beforehand. Television messages now remind viewers who might be lighting bonfires to check them first for the presence of hibernating hedgehogs.

During the 1970s and 1980s, hedgehogs were one of the poster animals for environment activists through Europe. A lot of hedgehogs were killed by traffic, and since the hedgehog already had an aura of a cute little friendly animal, the choice was nearly perfect.

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