The fox knows many little things but the hedgehog knows one big thing, the Greek poetArchilochus once said, which simply meant that the hedgehog’s single defence defeats the fox’s many tricks.
This is a very famous metaphor among intellectuals. Philosopher Isaiah Berlin used this metaphor in his famous essay, where he classified thinkers and writers into two groups. Ones with a single vision and single set of principles match the thinking and action of the hedgehog and the fox would seize many experiences and pursue many ends but would lack the central vision and universal principle, representing the second group.
The hedgehog is a spine-covered, rabbit-sized pig (hog)-like mammal. If asked, a biologist will tell you that the hedgehog also has many tricks on his sleeve to survive. The anointing behaviour of the hedgehog is a very interesting example; whenever it comes across a new scent, it will lick and bite that source and then form a scented froth in its mouth. This scented froth is pasted on its spines with its tongue so that it can hide around its predator. Animals, who use smell as a tool do not reach up to it, even if it does reach, the hedgehog uses its famous skill of coiling up into a spine ball to save itself.
On an average, a hedgehog has 5,000-6,500 quills. Their positioning is controlled by two large muscles. However, there are some bare parts with no quills and if it is bitten by a venomous snake, a protein called eranacin gives the hedgehog natural immunity against snake bites. The quills not only help in giving protection, but they also help in predation. In predation, my personal observation has been seeing a hedgehog biting and holding onto a snake’s tail. The snake tried to strike, but with attacks on the spiky animal, it got hurt, and finally, the hedgehog managed to kill the snake and consume it. It is also a wrong notion that during mating, the male gets hurt with the female spines and due to this, there is a proverb termed as the ‘hedgehog dilemma’.
There are 17 species of hedgehogs in the world and it spreads across Europe, Asia and Africa. In India, there are four types of species – the Indian or pale hedgehog, the long-eared hedgehog, the Brandt’s hedgehog and the bare-bellied hedgehog. The bare-bellied hedgehog is an endemic species, found only in India.
Hedgehogs are mainly found in dry areas. The long-eared hedgehog and Indian hedgehog are found in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Brandt’s hedgehogs are found only in Rajasthan and the bare-bellied hedgehog is found in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Farmers all over bring and leave them in their farms and fields to control snake and rat populations. Primarily, the hedgehog is an insectivore. Rajasthan’s famous wildlife expert, the late Shantanu Kumar, once told me about his experience of driving his vehicle carefully in Churu districts of Rajasthan to avoid killing a hedgehog on the road. This scenario does not exist anymore as more use of tractors have harmed the hedgehog and its habitat. Besides, the use of pesticides in crops have resulted in a decline in hedgehog population. Unfortunately, in spite of all the tricks and skills applied, neither the fox nor the hedgehog has been able to save themselves from the wrath of human dominance. We will not be able to win the battle without learning the important lesson of coexistence.