a group of hedgehogs? This question ran through my mind last night after I had investigated some furtive late-night rustlings in the fernery, and found four hedgehogs.
Perhaps they are named after the noise they make. In that case, they would be a snuffle of hedgehogs, a grunt of hedgehogs or even a rustle of hedgehogs. But that doesn’t seem right.
Maybe they’re named after their behaviour. Hedgehogs tend to freeze when humans stumble past, as if they’re saying “It wasn’t me!” “I’m not here!” and, if they could, would whistle nonchalantly as they tootled off into the undergrowth. In that case they’d be a freeze of hedgehogs, a furtive of hedgehogs or perhaps a suspicion of hedgehogs.
I’m quite happy to have hedgehogs lurking about in the undergrowth because they are handy for keeping down the population of some of the worst garden pests. They hoon about during the dark hours slurping slugs, cracking snails (something to do with their French ancestry, mayhap), gobbling grass grubs and chomping on all sorts of other critters. All for free.
I suspect they nick the odd strawberry when no-one’s looking and the ones who know their food pyramid occasionally gnaw on a bit of lettuce or other greenery to balance up all that meat. But that’s a small price to pay for their services.
Finding four of the critters together in one spot is a bit unusual. In my experience they seem to forage on their own unless they’ve got youngsters that they’re trying to train up. But then, what would I know? I haven’t exactly studied them, unlike a friend who undertook a fascinating field project for the Department of Conservation a few years ago.
His job was to sex hedgehogs. I jest not. That was his task, and no doubt an important part of a larger population study. I have to admit that, when he told me it was like one of those moments at a party when someone you’ve been chatting to says “I work for the Tax Department.” “That’s nice,” was my response, being uncertain as to whether I should politely enquire about what was involved or whether the hedgehogs seemed to mind. It doesn’t bear thinking about for too long, since hedgehogs roll up into balls of prickles when too disturbed, which must tend to hide their, er, fiddly bits.
Anyway, that isn’t solving my problem with nomenclature. A close rellie of mine supplies a choice phrase which might describe a gathering of hedgehogs. For some reason, this time of year brings out the worst in the local fauna, with stick insects lurking in the shower cubicle, weta hiding in the soap dish, moths struggling through tiny gaps so that they can do a couple of circuits in the kitchen before stomping all over the freshly made salad (and they never wipe their feet) and spiders snooping about in corners. She says these bugs seem to go a bit “loopy la-la” at this time of year, and I think that is a totally apt description. But I don’t think I could use it for hedhehogs – a loopy la-la of hedgehogs doesn’t have the right ring to it.
I have decided that a group of late-night hedgehogs is called a bonk, because that is exactly what they seemed to be doing for the next hour or so, and rather loudly. Oh, the lost sleep!