Since there’s an active growth in the amount of people wanting to house their hedgehog in a more natural or bio active way, we’ve made a full page as a guideline to set up such an enclosure. This page is made in colaboration and inspirated by Hedgehogs of Asgard, who has made a few posts about this on her blog.
The difference between natural or bio active enclosures
If you’re just reading into the topic, you might be unaware that these two things are different. When you think of a natural enclosure, you’d think that would mean it reflects their natural habitat and however that would be somewhat true, in animal husbandry there is a destinct difference between housing them natural or housing them bio active. Natural housing basically says you use more natural components to give it a more natural feel. But going natural, does not necessarily mean you’ll have to use desert sand and need to add live plants to it. It’s all up to you how far you’d want to go to come as close as you can to that reflection of a natural habitat. You can use a paper bedding and replace plastic hiding with wooden ones and call it natural. But you can also go as far as using a sand mixture as substrate and add potted plants, without being bio active.
Bio active on the other hand is something worth reading in to. That thought about coming as close to their natural habitat as you possibly can? This would be it. Bio active is where you use a sandmixture that represents their natural environment, add small insects and invertebrates to clean up their waste and use live plants to process the clean up crew’s waste into oxigen. With bio active, you do have a few choices, but those are limited to the possibilities that represent their natural habitat.
Choosing a substrate
After you have chosen your way of setting up your enclosure, you need to choose your substrate. Because of the two types of enclosures, we’ll write out some suggestions depending on your choice of housing.
|Natural substrates||Bio active substrates|
Paper type beddings like pellets or cardboard have a natural look to it whilst still being easy to clean. There are several options here depending on your country’s availability of beddings.
Allthough this bedding does not take in the urine and stools all too well and easily crumbles, it’s still easy to clean and looks even more natural than paper type beddings.
The soil mixtures described in the bio active substrates can also be used without the clean up crew! This way you’ll have the same ntural loo, but you still have to clean it every once in a while. You can adjust this type of substrate to your own liking, to match your view on their natural habitat.
The semidesert mixture is more sandy and hold less moisture for the clean up crew to survive. You will need to make a few extra spots for them to survive. The mixture can be made by using:
This substrate symbolises the bushy habitat of the Sahel. Still a dry environment but holds moisture a bit better and eaier for the clean up crew to survive in. This substrate is made by mixing:
If you want an even more natural look, you can top up the substrate with extra dried eaves, tree bark pieces, hay and moss.
* You can always try your own mixture, these are just examples.
Wood and stones
This step and the next are all about decoration, but also lead up to adding the clean up crew if you want to have a bio active enclosure. Wood and stones are essential in recreating a natural habitat and can make or break your set-up. Allthough these are entirely up to your taste, if you want a realistic enclosure that resembles the natural habitat of an African Pygmy Hedgehog, we have a few guidelines to help you out.
|Bushy enclosure||Semidesert enclosure|
Most natural substrate types can resemble a bushy type of habitat. If you choce the bushy type mixture from the previous step, this is what you want to use to make it a real resemblance:
If you’ve chosen the semi desert type of mixture, you’d want to go for a bit softer colored stones and another type of wood. Semi desert hardly contain tree stumps and fallen branches and has more dried plants and bushes. These are a few options:
If you want to use plants to make your hedgehog enclosure look more natural, you can! There are a number of species suited for using with hedgehog enclosures and those are widespread availabe in most reptile webshops or on animal fairs. There are a lot more suitable, but those might be a bit of a search, so we’ll stick to these few to begin with.
Beware, these are Latin names of the plant families, depending on the species they might or might not be quite as suited for hedgehogs. Plants that are safe for cats, dogs and small rodents are the safest option.
These plants have roots that take their nutriotion partialy from the air and do not have to be potted. They can be glued unto a number of surfaces with a sealant and have a variety of beautiful flowers. They like a dry environment, thus making them perfect for a hedgehog encosure. Also they are completely safe, even for consumption! (Although that would be very expensive food)
These plants are succulents that thrive well in dry environments. Once a year they can bloom with subte flowers on very long stems and develope seed lobs that will explode with they are fully developed. Or you can cut off the stem if you don’t want them to spread. They are safe, but do know they can cause some diarrhea if ingested in large amounts.
Although this is a tricky one when it comes to hedgehogs and you need to be careful to choose the right species, Aloë can be used as a plant on a higher ground a bit harder to reach. When nibbling on them for a bit they are harmless but ingested in large amounts they can cause diarrhea. The safest options when it comes to species are Aloë buettneri and Aloë vera. Other species within this family might have stronger effects.
These plants are used for aquariums, but are also available as terrarium plants. They thrive in a bit moistier environents, so works best as a potted plant in your hedgehog’s enclosure. They are completely safe and very easy to maintain. But as terrarium plant they might be hard to get your hands on.
Probably one of the most well-known terrarium plants and fairly easy to get your hans on. They know a good few varieties in different color as seen on the picture and fairly easy to maintain. They are safe, but i would recommend putting them a bit on higher ground and potted as the leaves do break easily when trampled on and they need a bit of a moist soil.
A well-known succulent plant that can become fairly large. Available in different species and forms an easy to get your hands on in any given green house. They are safe and like a dryer environment, but when watered, make sure they get plenty! Also make a very good plant for your cean up crew to hide in and have a safe place to drink, so make sure you spray the leaves of this plant for your clean up crew to thrive!
A grassy plant that thrives in dryer as well as moistier soils and are very easy to maintain. Availabe in any given green house and found in a number of species and colors. A perfect spot for your clean up crew, if you create a moist spot for them to hide and thrive.
This plate moss creates very stunning area’s of green to provide a clean spot for your food and water bowel for examples, or as a hiding place for your clean up crew that baan be kept fairly moist. It growns fairly easily but does ask for some maintanance as it likes a fairly moist ground to grow on. It’s very safe, but not the easiest to get your hands on.
Clean up crew
You’ve read about the ‘clean up crew’ a few times on this page now, so if you’re not read into natural and bio active housing, you might wonder what it is. It does sounds nice, a crew of people coming up and cleaning your hedgehog’s enclosure for you, right? Well, it is kind of like that, although you might not see that crew as much as you’d like. Bear in mind, if you’re doing a natural housing setup, you might want to skip this one and the sections about live feeding and cohabitation. But feel free to read anyway, ofcourse!
First and foremost, the clean up crew is a group of various animals that take care of your hedgehog’s waste. Basically, those animals eat your hedgehog’s stools and break down its urine to smaller particles. Smaller animals will break it down to such small particles that it’s now food for living plants to grow, which in their turn provide shelter to the clean up crew and also takes care of the air levels in the enclosure. It’s a mini ecological environment on its own. But it’s easier said than done to maintain a bio active enclosure.
To start out, it’s important to know which species are helpfull and can thrive in arid environments. Let’s start with the bigger eaters to break down your hedgehog’s stools. These animals often are also a good snack for your hedgehog and need to be refilled every now and then as your hedgehog will try and hunt them down. That’s why most people choose grasshoppers and/or crickets to do the trick. They will eat most bigger plant material as well as dried stools laying around. They are also widespread available for a fairly cheap price and they thrive in arid environments, making them a perfect member of your clean up crew.
The the middle section, to be in charge of breaking down most of the stools rather than dried stools only, Superworms and/or mealworms are the perfect animals to do this as they both like rotting matter and both plant as animal matter is fine with them. Also, if they ran out of food source and there are plenty of worms in the viv, they will eat eachother so you won’t have to deal with an overload of worms.
For the small section isopods, springtails and/or buffaloworms are perfect. Isopods and buffaloworms will take the waste down a bit more, before the springtails come in. This group is the main link between a hedgehog’s waste before it turns into a fertilizer for your plants. Bear in mind, springtails are not made for arid vivs. They needs various moisty areas and for them it’better to have a big layer of soil, so the moist will be held in on the bottom and thy can survive. If th enclosure is to arid, thy will die within a matter of days. Isopods and buffaloworms are perfectly fit for arid nclosures depending on the species of isopos you choose. Tropical isopods are made for moisty enclosures, but most other species are perfectly fine. However, do your research on them, as a few species might be poisonous.
Maintaining the soil
Having a layer of hydro grain and putting a mesh above it will maintain a moisty layer of soil just above the drainage layer. This area creates a perfect living condition for your clean up crew, especially if you chose the springtails. But aside from that, the soil does need some care every now and then.
Your hedgehog will trample on the soil daily, making the small layer of soil you use for your enclosure (in comparison with a wild habitat) rock solid after som time if you don’t maintain it. This makes it impossible for your clean up crew to survive. Mixing it and reorganising your setup from time to time will prevent that from happening and keeps the soil airy.
Making hiding places
You can easily make a few hiding places for your clean up crew. Living plants will deffinitally do some good as the soil between the roots stays moisty, which is a good thing for most of the clean up crew. Their leaves create hiding places for bigger clean up crew, but there are a few other ways as well:
Provide food and water
Providing food and water for your clean up crew can be tricky. Most clean up crew members will control themselves, but a few other might be better off feeding them a bit more on the side to prevent them from dying out. Especially the grasshoppers and/or crickets if you chose them. But there are a few ways to do the trick:
Okay, so before we go putting in the hedgehog, we’re not completely there yet. Give your bio active enclosure some time to settle and thrive. Most soils already have some fertilizer and waste in them which ar helpfull to get your plants growing and your clean up crew eating. So wait a month or two before you put in your hedgehog so you can see if all goes well with your plants and clean up crew and so you can figure out how to care for them first and keep them alive. After that period of time, feel free to put in your hedgehog if you think your enclosure is stabilized. Once you’ve put in your hedgehog, you can think about how you want to feed your insects, because aside from eating your clean up crew, you also have the option to live feed your prey animals.
Live feeding is one of the most enriching practises you could offer your hedgehog. Feeding living animals triggers their natural instinct to hunt for their food. In some hedgehogs, this might even fully replace their need for a running wheel! This is mainly the case for hedgehogs that easily keep a good weight and really get into the hunting, foraging and digging. Which also helps you maintain the soil as described above and prevent them from being bored without a wheel. Some hedgehogs can destroy your whole setup overnight, so make sure you have given the clean up crew and your live plants enough time to settle in. Some plants that are regularly destroyed, you might be better of potting them. But you’ll learn that through time soon enough! *evil laugh*
So, which animals are great for live feeding? Actually, quite a lot! We all know hedgehogs love feeding on insects, so you already have a good list there. But there are a few more, so let’s just make a good list here.
- Dubia’s (Cockroaches)
- Phoenix worms
- Dendrobena’s (Bred, not wild)
- Dola worms (Beetles are found under cohabitation)
- Mice, pinky to fuzzy (0-3 weeks old)
- Rats, pinky (0-2 weeks)
- Hamsters, pinky to fuzzy (0-3 weeks old)
- Snail runts (Bred snails, not wild. Giant African Land Snails up to 4 cm)
For those of you feeding one day chicks or baby snakes (runts), it’s recomended not feeding them alive. The one day chicks would be mainly eaten alive due to their size, making it a horribly painful experience for the chick. The baby snakes could bite the hedgehog in a way that possibly could be fatal, therefore it’s recommend to feed them dead. Also, however a little veno from a poisonous baby snake would probably not harm them as much, its still recommended to feed non-posonous species only. Our captive hedgehogs might not be as immune to the venom as their wild counterparts and there are no studies to prove or disprove their immunity to snake venom whatsoever.
There are a few people who have made a cohabitating enclosure, which means they have put in other animals to live in the enclosure, aside from a hedgehog. And with a few tweaks, it is not too hard to do! There are undoubtably a lot more species that can cohabit with hedgehogs without an issue, but these are the ones seen and done by others.
These are beetles that come in a variaty of species. Some might be poisonous, so this page only describes the Pachnoda marginata. This is a black to brown and yellow beetle, that comes from the Dola worms we mentioned in the live feeding section. They are very big eaters of plant material and need extra feeding if you want them to thrive. Hedgehogs don’t really love eating them after turning into beetles, so they are great as cohabiters. They love hiding in the soil, but also walk around the enclosure where you can watch them. They need a higher temperature, much like hedghogs and are fine with arid enclosures as long as they hav a moistier layer of soil to live in as well. They can lay eggs in that oisty layer of soil, which gives you a new generation of Dola worms. Most will be eatn but some might actually survive and turn into new beetles. They are no quick breeders though, so you might want to refill if you don’t see them walking around anymore. Giving your hedgehog a dish of fruits and vegetables to enjoy, will be a feast to these animals if your hedgehog leaves anything behind. Especially sweet fruits and vegetables are a great meal for Dola’s.
This tiny gecko species (Lepidodactylus lugubris) has no living males as far as science knows. Females are parthenogenic and can lay and hatch eggs without interferance of a male counterpart. They are easy breeders which lay about 2 eggs per 2 to 3 weeks, so if you have a thriving group of these, you won’t be too unhappy if your hedgehog decides to eat one. Mourning gecko’s are great climbers that will climb up your glass and sides of your enclosure, as well as branches and plants so most of them will be far out of reach for your hedgehog. They mainly eat small insects and crickets if they are grown into adulthood, so these little creatures are perfect if your clean up crew is thriving just a little too much. They also like a fruit smoothie every once in a while, which you can offer in a small feeding dish on a bit of higher ground. And if you have Dola’s as well, maybe consider to make it available to both species as they wont hurt eachother: Dola’s are too big for the gecko’s to eat. Mourning gecko’s are also a perfect match to hedgehogs, as they also prefer an arid enclosure and like their environment to be warm. They’re not to hard to care for either, so you won’t have to bother having a lot of extra care to provide for them.
Breeding on natural or bio active substrates
Let’s be real here for a moment. A good breeder always wants best for their herd of hedgehogs and always wants to improve, right? So what’s more awesome than being able to breed on natural or bio active substrate?! A lot of you are anxiously waiting for a guide on breeding that is related to breeding on bio active. So let’s start with the basics of breeding first and if you’re ready with that page, come back here to read the rest. You can find the basic guide on breeding here.
Breeding on bio active isn’t too much different from regular breeding, but there are a few important things you will need to know before you try it. Just to add up to the regular breeding guide. Have you read it? Great, then let’s begin!
Always mate the hedgehog on neutral terrain or in the males enclosure. Certainly in bio active or natural vivs, this is important because the female will have to al with hormones and mating in her enclosure will cause extra stress as the smell of the male will stay longer in her enclosure then when you have a normal substrate. Extra stress can cause a range of issues in breeding from anious behaviour to miscarriage.
Getting the enclosure ready
After mating, you will need to prepare the female enclosure. Some of you use seperat litter enclosures and some will use the female’s own enclosure, but nevertheless it needs preperation. Remember we talked about topping up your substrate with leaves, tree bark pieces and all that? We need you to top it up some more. Half up to three quarters of that ayer of substrate will be used by the female to build her nest. You’ll see after mating when the pregnancy hormones kick in, that she will anxiously drag around leaves, branches, bark pieces and everything she can find to build a solid nest to deliver her babies in and nurse them out of sight from predatory animals. This instinct is still very much on the surface despite them being somewhat domesticated throughout the years. But aside from her own behaviour, nest building in bio active and natural enclosures is a matter of life and death. Without at least a solid flooring of the nest made from leaves and bark pieces, the newborn hoglets will lay right on top of the soil. The soil will stick to their skin, causing shaving burns and making it unable to move around and drink from their mother. Unfortunately, that’s a mistake we made ourselves and we’ve lost our first litter on bio active this way. After we’ve made sure the mothers had plenty of litter to build a nest with, we’ve never lost a litter again to this issue. Small remark: We were the first to do this and have had no information to go off of. For us, it was trial and error process you can now learn from.
Born & raised
Once the hoglets are born, if the mother has made a good nest you won’t be able to peak in as easily. If you’ve used a house for the mother to build a nest in and you can remove it, you might be able to take a quick peak in. We’ve noticed our mothers are even more relaxed than they were before when having litters and they didn’t mind us peaking in at all (not for too long though). Once the hoglets are old enough to move around the enclosure you’ll notive how steady they grow compared to a litter that doesn’t grow up on bio active. This might be because their instincts are highly triggered and they learn to hunt down their insects from a very early age on, making sure they exercise plenty already on a young age despite having no access to a running wheel. Prepare your mind that they might not make it the usual wieght you let them move out on, because of this very trait. They really grow up to be fit instead of held on weight, which really makes a bunch of difference when you have some more experience on bio active breeding or housing. Usually our hedgehogs would weigh between 180-240 on age of 8 weeks, whilst on bio active some would be just above 150 grams at the same age without being skinny. Just to remind you, weight is not the only indication to a hedgehog’s health. Hoglets brought up on bio active substrate usually keep a better weight throughout their lives, certainly if their new owner also keeps them on bio active substrate!