It is surprising, even amongst persons pretending to some fair amount of educated intelligence, how gross is the general ignorance of natural history, extending even to the animals of our households and our domesticated pets.
For some years the subject of this article has become important among the first, whether it becomes the last depends mostly on the knowledge to be obtained of tho animal’s instincts, and its capability of being tamed, for which few give it credit.
From some cause, which is not in the province of this paper to explain, London houses are infested with beetles and cockroaches, generally mice and rats, and not unfrequently spiders in abundance. Now, all your beetle-traps, rat-traps, mouse ditto, poisons, or infallible insect powders, are as nothing compared to the services of a hedgehog, who will clear the kitchens and cellars in a very short space of time.
Londoners have become aware of the serviceable nature of this creature, but when, in answer to some complaint of a neighbour or acquaintance about being tormented with black beetles, we have advised the keeping of a hedgehog, we have generally met with the reply, “But we never can get one to live; they always die in a month.”
At first this used to perplex us greatly, and when in our turn we also began to suffer under this beetle grievance, the experience of our neighbours deterred us from trying our own remedy. At length the enemy grew so bold, and increased so greatly in force, that one day in pure desperation we determined to provide a hedgehog, and bought one accordingly in Leaden hall Market.
When we got him home we christened him Peter, and gave him a mansion beneath a disused kitchen copper, with plenty of hay, a large supply of water, and a good supper of bread and milk, which we had always been told was amply sufficient to satisfy the creature’s appetite.
We soon discovered why our acquaintance could not keep their hedgehogs alive. Belonging to the order carnivora, these animals when in a domestic state rarely have any meat given them. Many persons, indeed, have a fixed idea that the vermin they destroy is enough to sustain life, or they vaguely attribute to the hedgehog the fabled chameleon ability of living on air.
One of our family, L_ , who has a passion for every creature belonging to animal nature, undertook to tame Peter, and ascertain his habits, tastes, and likings. Of course she fed him, that is the first key to animal affection. He soon came to recognise the hand on which he depended for daily food. He makes but one meal per diem, and that about nine o’clock, p.m. ; and if the hour goes by without his food being placed, he utters a peculiar noise resembling a groan, sneezes frequently, with the force and fervency of a cat, and testifies much uneasiness.
He requires meat pretty frequently, and is very partial to a bone with a good deal on it. He unrolls himself at the touch of L_ , and places his bristles down, so that she can stroke him; he will even play occasionally, stretching out his paws — so like a monkey’s — and will sometimes lick the hand of his feeder. Though it is not to be denied he has his tempers, and is sometimes surly, and consequently very prickly. He was extremely light when he first came into our possession, but after a course of good feeding he became quite fat, and spread considerably in his proportions.
In a fortnight he had cleared away every beetle on the premises, though previously we had without effect tried every known antidote to destroy these pests; cucumber parings which they devoured, and which did not kill them — as we had been assured they would — pans of beer, with little ladders to give them access to the liquor, which they drank and ran away again; the topers, instead of, as we fondly hoped, drowning themselves in the strong drink. Peter knocked them all off, and wanted more, judging from the noise he made every night after dark, resembling a cat walking about in walnut-shells.
Indeed, Peter at first alarmed us considerably by knocking about the saucepans and kitchen utensils with a force, which once or twice convinced us that housebreakers were on a visit. He made these noises, we found, in researches after rats and mice, with which, in its free state, the hedgehog satisfies its carnivorous instincts. It is, indeed, more valuable in the destruction of rats than either cat or dog. Descending one morning early into the kitchen inhabited by Peter, we were horrified on seeing the floor soiled with large spots of blood, and marks of claw-like feet in the same sanguine colour. We examined the cat, who was suspected of being secretly an enemy to Peter, but Puss was perfectly serene and unwounded.
Then the hedgehog was dragged out of his hole, and, to our dismay, we found the poor creature’s eyes were closed, one of them being apparently torn out. The carcase of a rat, half-devoured, being discovered, we came to the conclusion that the creatures had been engaged in mortal combat, in which poor Peter had lost his beautiful eyes — eyes of dark-blue, which though not over bright were nice intelligent eyes. We were sorry to think that, for the rest of his days, he must grope in the dark; but, in a month’s time, Peter had perfectly recovered his eye-sight, even the orb where only a vacuum could be seen.
Peter has become a household pet, but truth demands we should not conceal his faults. He is by no means cleanly in his habits; he is untidy in his eating; and is positively addicted to thieving. In winter he never appears to be warm enough, but goes about foraging for bed-clothes — stealing all the stray towels, house-flannels, and pieces of cloth or carpet which fall in his way.
These are faults intolerable in the sight of tidy housewives; but somehow Peter has grown to be a necessary evil, for he keeps the house free from vermin, and therefore is quite worth the trouble he gives. It is said that this animal is invulnerable to any poison, and that he can feed with impunity on the most venomous creatures. That he is capable of being tamed, and susceptible of attachment, the writer can vouch for. At the same time, it is suggested to every one who keeps or intends to keep a hedgehog, that he is like a good many human beings, he prefers good eating and drinking to starvation, and that his existence is prolonged or shortened according to the sufficiency of his diet.