Dr Lee,
I was wondering, have you ever come across any blue hedgehogs that were faster than normal and were compelled to collect golden rings? Sorry for the randomness, but I always wanted to ask a scientist a question about Sonic the hedgehog.

From Andre L, USA

Good question Andre.

No, I have not encountered Sonic the Hedgehog. But I have encountered real life hedgehogs while in Tanzania studying African giant pouched rats.

here's a local (Morogoro, Tanzania) hedgehog doing a pretty good Sonic impression.

Hedgehogs are Old World mammals often mistaken as rodents, but are actually Insectivores...Eulipotyphlates*

* Seems there there was a re-ordering and redistribution of species since my Mammalogy lessons. Thanks to molecular technology and genetic sequencing many species of shrews and related species, like the hedgehog here, have been reassigned to this new order, Eulipotyphla.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal species. In fact I saw my very first one running across a side road at night. It was scuttling across the road and I wasn't sure what it was. Just before it disappeared into the brush I made out the mat of spines. According to African Wildlife Foundation, a hedgehog can have up to 6,000 quills on its back which provide protection from predators.

And those spiky spines are serious. Note the leather gloves I am wearing. They feel like an echinoderm.

The kiswahili word for hedgehog is kalunguyeye. Sometimes local children will capture hedgehogs to sell to tourists. I wasn't interested in buying a pet, but I did pay a local woman a few shillings for allowing me get an up close look at one and take pictures. 

They are covered in spines dorsally - only on their backs from the top of their heads which includes their faces down to their tails. Their ventral side or bellies are soft, covered in light fur. They can roll themselves into a ball to protect their sensitive organs from predator attacks.

It's always exciting to meet and learn about new species.

Thank you for following along on my research and travel adventures!

~Dispatches from DNLee