World’s oldest hedgehog baffles scientists as he shatters previously held record

Hedgehog life expectancy has just spiked with the world’s oldest European critter smashing the previous record .

Scientist "Dr Hedgehog" and her team have discovered a 16-year-old real-life Sonic, a whole seven years senior to what researchers previously logged as the oldest spiky fella around.

Thorvald – as the record breaker from Denmark has been named, has managed to live roughly 13 years longer than the average hedgehog that usually only survive for around two to three years.

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In recent years hedgehog populations have declined dramatically across Europe.

In the UK, urban populations have fallen by up to 30%, with rural populations dropping even further by at least 50% since 2000.

The worrying trend has led researchers and conservationists to launch various projects to monitor hedgehog populations to inform initiatives to protect them in the wild.

During 2016, Danish communities were asked to collect any dead hedgehogs they found for a citizen science project called The Danish Hedgehog Project.

The aim was to better understand the state of the Danish hedgehog population by establishing how long hedgehogs typically lived for.

The researchers determined the age of the dead hedgehogs by counting growth lines in thin sections of the hedgehogs’ jawbones, a method similar to counting growth rings in trees.

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The team said the lines are a good tell as each year when hedgehogs hibernate their calcium metabolism slows down. This causes bone growth to reduce or even stop, creating growth lines, with each line representing every yearly hibernation.

While they found hedgehogs aged 13 and 11, the crown went to Thorvald who lived for 16 years, making him the oldest scientifically documented European hedgehog ever found. The previous record holder lived for nine years.

Despite these long-lived individuals, the average age of the hedgehogs was only around two years.

About a third of the hedgehogs died by the time they had reached the age of one.

Of the hedgehogs, 56% were killed when crossing the road, while 22% died at hedgehog rehabilitation centres, following incidents such as dog attacks.

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Just over 20% died of natural causes in the wild.

In the height of mating season for hedgehogs in Denmark, hedgehogs cross more roads in search of a romp.

Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen – known to colleagues as 'Dr Hedgehog' – led The Danish Hedgehog Project.

She said: “Although we saw a high proportion of individuals dying at the age of one year, our data also showed that if the individuals survived this life stage, they could potentially live to become 16 years old and produce offspring for several years.

“This may be because individual hedgehogs gradually gain more experience as they grow older.

“If they manage to survive to reach the age of two years or more, they would have likely learned to avoid dangers such as cars and predators.”

The findings were published in the journal Animals.


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