Hedgehogs, snakes & gender

Last week, I demo’d an African hedgehog; this week, a bullsnake. These hands-on encounters last no more than 15 minutes, to avoid stressing the animal. Not every creature gets touched, and not every creature reacts when you touch it. This varies not just from species to species, but also from individual to individual. The three African hedgehogs I’ve handled vary widely in sensitivity: Tulip, a girl, starts pooping after the first five minutes; Aspen, also female, is more mellow but curls up into a ball of spikes when lifted — a standard protective measure for the species. Then there’s this character:

We were told he’s male, though he doesn’t have a name yet. Both my demo partner and I picked him up last week and got this wonderfully nonchalant yoga-pose response. Everyone wants to touch a fuzzy-looking hedgehog when they see it, but the one time my bare finger grazed one by accident, I bled a little. Don’t confuse it with a baby porcupine, though! These guys are native to Africa and southern Europe, where they hibernate at temperatures below 45F. What we know as Groundhog Day started in Europe as Hedgehog Day. I don’t know if Nameless is less sensitive because he’s male; my sample size here is too small, and I dislike gender stereotypes in any species. But last week’s demo revelation led me in a similar direction: William, always the calmer of our two bullsnakes, has turned out to be Willa.

The revelation, according to Zoomobile staffer Chris, came a couple of weeks ago when “William,” now 4 years old and nearly 5 feet long, laid 20 eggs. S/he had always been labeled “gender unknown” — for that matter, so is Draco, our more wiggly and challenging bullsnake. Draco, like Willa, could still join the ranks of regendered reptiles in my world, including fellow volunteer Darlene’s male box turtle, Sally, and Roger the alligator  — the real-life female that got loose in Minnesota and found a zoo home this week, not the animated movie character from “Madagascar.” In the meantime, I’ll keep trying not to anthropomorphize the animals. It’s hard to say whether I’ll succeed at this, of course.