Wednesday, January 13, 2016

African Pygmy Hedgehog (Four-Toed Hedgehog)

From 2008-2012 our lab was located at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. We spent four years there studying the comparative anatomy of primates before venturing into our biomedical research areas when we moved to Indiana University. During our time in St. Louis, we established a collaboration with Jenny Joyce, the Elephant Manager at Grant's Farm. Grant's Farm is the 281-acre ancestral home of the Busch family (of Anheuser-Busch fame) and is named after Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, who had previously worked a portion of the land. Today, Grant's Farm is a well regarded wildlife park dedicated to education and public outreach about the 900 different species that call the park home. Our collaboration with Jenny allowed us to obtain remains of animals that died of natural causes at the wildlife park, and we are greatly appreciative.

One of the animals that came to us from Grant's Farm was an African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) named Amber. Given the association with Anheuser-Busch, it should come as no surprise to beer connoisseurs that Amber had a brother named Bock.

Photo from University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web (
African pygmy hedgehogs are members of the mammalian Order Insectivora, which includes hedgehogs, moles, tenrecs, golden moles, solenodons, and shrews, divided among six families (African pygmy hedgehogs belong to the family Erinaceidae). They are generally solitary animals that range in Southern Africa from Senegal to Sudan to Zambia, and live in deserts and scrub forests. They feed mostly on insects and spiders, and for a long time were brought out of Africa by pet traders - this is no longer legal, however. One of the most distinctive aspects of this animal is the presence of sharp quills covering its back and sides. These quills are present at birth but covered in a membrane that prevents them from injuring the mother during delivery. When a hedgehog is threatened by a predator it has the ability to roll itself into a tight ball, which forces its quills to splay in all directions and protects the animal from being eaten.

The Eatles have been feasting on the remains of Amber for the last several days, and they are making quick work of cleaning her skeleton. Below is a picture from this morning. I will post additional pictures as they progress, and of course will be sure to post a picture of the final product.

Contributed by: Jason Organ, PhD 

Read more about African Pygmy Hedgehogs:

Nichols, J. 1999. "Atelerix albiventris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 13, 2016 at

Girgiri I, Olopade JO, & Yahaya A (2015). Morphometrics of foramen magnum in African four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris). Folia morphologica, 74 (2), 188-91 PMID: 26050805 

Girgiri, B., Ibrahim, B., & Bwala, A. (2015). Morphometric studies of some visceral organs and gastrointestinal tract of four-toed african hedgehog (atelerix albiventris) Journal of Morphological Sciences, 32 (1), 29-32 DOI: 10.4322/jms.071014