Hedgehogs, rats or both?

3 August 2020

On the case hedgehog 2020 Aug

When the Pickard family set up a tracking tunnel in their back yard in Arrowtown  they expected to get rat prints but the only clear print they got didn’t look right. So they sent this photo to us at Pest Detective and asked what we thought.

It wasn’t a complete paw print but there was enough evidence to suggest it was a hedgehog’s. 

Although a rat print would be much smaller than a hedgehog’s we couldn’t use size as a clue because there was no scale in the photo. It’s often handy to photograph a ruler or familiar object like a pen next to prints for this reason. 

So, instead, we looked at the shape of the paw print. There was a relatively large central pad at the base of the print and an arc of clear toe prints quite close above. That pointed to either a hedgehog or a cat. In comparison, rat toes are positioned in a more pronounced arc and are spaced relatively further away from the paw pad.

So, was it a cat or hedgehog? The clues pointed to ‘hedgehog’.  Hedgehogs have three forward-facing toes above the central pad and two toes (one on each side) that are lower down and point out at an angle. In this print, there was a smeary fourth toe print on the left that fitted this pattern, although the fifth toe had not left a mark.  A cat was ruled out because cats have four forward-facing toes above the central pad, positioned closer together. They don’t have lower, outward-facing toes.

The Pickards had seen a number of hedgehogs in previous months, so hedgehogs were known to be around. However, the family had expected to get rat prints because of the many empty walnut shells under their walnut tree.

It’s quite likely that both hedgehogs and rats are present, it’s just that there were no clear rat prints on the other smeary tracking results the family got. The empty walnut shells point to rats, as nuts are not a normal part of hedgehog diet, and walnuts are poisonous to mice .

The Pickards built their own tracking tunnel, following the instructions on DOC’s website.

“It was a good activity for the boys during Covid-19 lockdown,” Niki recalls. “They got very interested and wanted to go out to the garden every morning to check the tunnel.”