Hedgehog Popularity: Rise of the Meme-Pet

By Published On: 10 April 2014Last Updated: 17 January 2017

Can we prevent ourselves from placing another species on a temporary internet pedestal before they, too, require rescue?

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Cute Baby Hedgehog

Open up your Tumblr dashboard on any given day, and you’re sure to find countless photo sets and gifs of hedgehogs doing adorable things. Each post has thousands of notes. All of your friends reblog cute hedgehogs doing silly things; even you sometimes do. You never knew people could keep hedgehogs as pets, but the countless blog posts and YouTube videos and pop culture websites just reiterate how possible it is. You think if they can have one, so can you.

It’s the rise of the “meme-pet.”

According to many news stories and articles popping up, like Hedgehogs Are Quickly Becoming the Most Popular Pets, hedgehogs are now trendy pets. And as trendy pets, the demand for them is on the rise. The viral nature of their looks has mirrored into the real world. Like all viral items on the internet, there is no doubt that this trend will crest and fall, and what will be left is a large number of newly bred hedgehogs that need homes.

Hedgehogs, specifically the African Pygmy hedgehog, started to become domesticated and marketed as trendy pets in the 1980s, with their interest peaking in the early ’90s. Their mass appeal eventually waned; a new industry of pets became a reality. While I’m sure there are people who genuinely cared for their hedgehogs and those who continue to today, the fact is: we do not need any more animal industries.

Here are just a handful of the requirements or things to expect with an African Pygmy hedgehog:

  • They require hours of exercise each day (because actual wild hedgehogs travel for miles each day and without exercise can become depressed to the point of starvation, or can get liver problems).
  • Their enclosures need to be kept at between 70  to 80 degrees (otherwise they will attempt to hibernate, which can kill them).
  • Hedgehogs have very particular diets. While in the wild they tend to eat bugs (specifically beetles), most websites advocate feeding them a mixture of crickets, mealworms, cooked meats, fruits, vegetables and commercial, dry cat food.
  • Hedgehogs are nocturnal, and keeping them up during the day while you are awake can mess with their own sleep schedule.
  • Due to years of inbreeding these kinds of pets, hedgehogs can get many kinds of sicknesses, including a horrible one called wobbly hedgehog syndrome (whs), which is similar to multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans.
  • They are also illegal in a handful of states, or require a special permit to keep.

But let’s just let this quote from this New York Post article speak for itself:

Blame the Internet, but hedgehogs have become the It girl of exotic pets in recent years. With their little pointy noses, beady eyes and round, spike-covered bodies, they are endlessly photogenic and ripe for memes, Buzzfeed lists and YouTube videos.

“People love anything that looks a bit odd and unique,” says Emily Huh, director of business development for Cheezburger, the media company behind dozens of websites, like Lolcats, devoted to cute animal pictures. “And

[hedgehogs] have the ability to roll into a ball and just be a spiky ball of spines.”

In just the flash on a cute photo or gif, a person can compulsively want a hedgehog just because they’re “photogenic” or “ripe for memes, Buzzfeed lists, and YouTube videos.” Never mind the actual care needed to take care of a hedgehog, what matters most is that they’re “ripe” for memes, and intangible numbers on the bottom of your videos, photos and posts.

In today’s internet age, we’re always looking for a way to connect to the world and present ourselves as unique. Facebook and Instagram likes, YouTube hits, and Tumblr notes. If that means accessorizing with an “in” pet, then we’re really jumping into this the wrong way. It isn’t about concern for the animal but just another way of materializing affirmation for “uniqueness.” To me, this is like the birth of a new industry.

This kind of need will fuel future demands for other exotic animals. While there seems to be a community of people who dedicate themselves to the actual care and rescue of hedgehogs, can we prevent ourselves from placing another species on a temporary internet pedestal before they, too, require rescue?

It’s important that we stop ourselves before we begin. We can adore an animal from a distance, without the need to to claim ownership of them.

Photo credit: roc&rm via Flickr

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