Unusual dark hedgehog from eastern China is new to science


The new-to-science hedgehog species has darker brown fur and spines, as well as slightly larger ears, than the European hedgehog

ZooKeys

Scientists have identified a new species of hedgehog: a dark brown creature that dwells in the forests of eastern China.

In 2018, Kai He at Guangzhou University, China, and his colleagues stumbled across some mysterious-looking hedgehogs in the provinces of Anhui and Zhejiang. Compared with the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), these had darker brown fur and spines, as well as slightly larger ears.

After analysing seven of the animals, including their DNA samples, the researchers concluded that they belonged to a species that hadn’t been scientifically described before, which they named Mesechinus orientalis.

The four other known species in the Mesechinus genus mainly live in northern China, Mongolia and Russia, while the species M. hughi resides in south-west China.

“It’s quite interesting that this forest hedgehog was found over 1000 kilometres away from its known distribution,” says He.

Weighing just under 340 grams and measuring 18.8 centimetres long, on average, M. orientalis is slightly smaller than the other known hedgehogs in its genus.

Like other hedgehogs, M. orientalis is a nocturnal species that tends to feed on insects and fruit. It also hibernates during winter.

So far, the team has only found M. orientalis in two Chinese provinces. Based on the numbers recorded so far, though, it isn’t thought to be endangered, says He, who estimates there are probably several hundred individuals in these provinces.

There were only 17 known species of hedgehogs globally, “so we were pretty happy that we increased that by one”, he says.

“For a genuine hedgehog nerd like myself, this is astonishing news,” says Sophie Lund Rasmussen at the University of Oxford. “I look forward to learning more about the species’ ecology and whether this also differs compared to the other species of hedgehogs in the country.”

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