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Science Wednesday: A Hedgehog was my ‘Sputnik Moment’

2011 February 23

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the annual science fair at my daughter’s elementary school. I joined several hundred other proud parents in the loud, over-crowded gymnasium to bask in the collective genius of our children.

As I’ve come to expect, the projects were impressive. There were investigations exploring which substance—sand , salt, or flour—melted ice the fastest (it was salt); what kind of pet rodent could learn to negotiate a maze the fastest (a rat), and which paper towel absorbed the most water.

I finished checking the other presentations just in time to watch the judge interview my daughter about her own project: the self-anointing behavior of her pet hedgehog. For largely unknown reasons, hedgehogs sometimes contort backwards so they can reach the quills on their back and cover them with a coating of frothy saliva. Once you get past the yuck factor, it’s really quite fascinating.

My daughter put her hedgie in front of newspaper, a toy hedgehog, and a magazine to compare anointing responses. It anointed the most when confronted with newspaper, which it would bite and energetically chew up. There was no response at all at  the toy.

At the exact same time the elementary school students were showing off their experiments, some of my colleagues were preparing to share EPA research activities at a gathering of slightly older, more experienced scientists: the annual meeting of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS meeting is just one of several gatherings where EPA scientists and science communicators go to share their work every year. For scientists, such events serve as important venues to share their latest findings, meet colleagues, and cultivate new research partnerships in support of EPA programs protecting human health and the environment.

Next month EPA scientists and their work will be prominently featured at the 5oth Anniversary celebration of the Society of  Toxicology. In April, EPA’s own Earth Day activities will include bringing college and university student teams together at the 8th Annual P3 Awards : A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet.

Whether it’s the scientific presentations presented by elementary school students or the world class scientists gathering at AAAS, there seems to be lots of enthusiasm for sharing science. I always look forward to the next event. And who knows, someday soon maybe I’ll learn more about why hedgehogs self anoint.

About the Author: Science-writer Aaron Ferster is the editor for Science Wednesdays and a frequent contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    February 23, 2011

    I’m Still A Kid…..!!!!

    Hello Aaron,
    If we compare the age between the human and the planets of the universes, as like our age is a “second” along the life of the planets. And so, there isn’t different time between I and your smart daughter. However, I am 55 years old, but I’m still remember my “own kid” life and sustainable. And I impressed to your daughter that as though said to us that hedgehogs self anoint meant the human living-up more than 100 years by the advancement of science. We need the oldest people who bring the world to be elegant…..

  2. Alexander permalink
    February 25, 2011

    We can’t save Hedgehogs. One lived near my house. It grunted as a pig and stamped as a horse in the night. It ate the mice. The big highway appeared near my house and Hedgehog disappeared. The mice disappeared too. What have they done to hedgehog,mice and me, I think?

  3. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    February 27, 2011

    Science fairs at school are a great way to get children in all grades interested in science and engineering. If they get interested at an early age maybe they will continue on this track in high school and college. Science is a subject that should not be confined to mainstream regular class students. There is an organization in Minnesota that works with disabled special education students in all grades. One of the programs they have is one to get disabled girls in middle and high school grades interested in studying science and engineering and leading on to college. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

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  11. June 7, 2012

    And who knows, someday soon maybe I’ll learn more about why hedgehogs self anoint.

  12. July 31, 2012

    Reminds me of sonic the hedgehog!

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