First time I saw Mr. Pokee, a hedgehog the size of a cup of coffee with 1.9 million followers Instagram, I naively thought he was somehow special. He has fluffy white belly fur and likes to pat his chubby little legs. He often poses in front of heavily decorated nature scenes, as if he were photobombing the Windows desktop. Sometimes he holds a small teddy bear or wears small socks. When he smiles, he shows the sweetest, undamaged fangs.
But when I touched the blue Follow button, I was surprised when Instagram revealed to me a lot of other hedgehog influences that I could enjoy. Was Koala, who wears glasses and poses in elaborate backgrounds made to look like scenes from Harry Potter. It was Wilbert, a hedgehog doing ASMR biting worms in front of a mini microphone. They carried hedgehogs tiny hats, hedgehogs happen small vacations, hedgehogs pose in front of festive banners that read things like “HAPPY EASTER” and “PROUD TO BE IRISH”. The daily_dose_of_hedgehogs and daily__hedgehog accounts combined the best weekly hedgehog content and put some of it to music.
I followed them all. And then the algorithm kept giving. Hedgehogs started appearing in my ads. Cinnamon posed with a small towel on her head during her warm weekend, courtesy of Hotels.com. Ichigo he seems to be smiling at his watch. Maple, a representative of the brand for two stores, said “DM for #cooperation” in her biography. Another pig, Lionel, did sponsored posts for Cadbury Chocolate, a national pharmacy chain, a weighted blanket company, a PBS documentary series on forest creatures, 2020. Hedgehog Sonic a movie, a cafe in South Carolina, and a brand of carpet cleaner specifically formulated to remove pet stains.
As I approached the next 100 hedgehogs, the algorithm began to suspect that I too had a hedgehog, or at least could be in the market for one. It proposes invoices for the sale of hedgehog goods, stock of hedgehogs and, in some cases, real hedgehogs. A store in the UK offers a music-festival set, including a tent, lanterns, a set of pint glasses and two “mini resin burgers”. Biographies of some hedgehogs are associated with Etsy stores, where they sold their own props.
My hedgehog was constantly growing. One hundred and fifty, 200. I opened a new account just to keep track of them all – hedgehog.fan12, because the hedgehog is already busy, and 12 is my lucky number. I started to wonder where the hedgehogs would stop: Would Instagram ever suggest, say, hamsters instead? But follow follow, the algorithm served more. I stopped at 553.
I learned that these are not hedgehogs I could come across in the British forests. (Not that this could happen though: the population of British rural hedgehogs is estimated to have declined by at least a third since 2002.) They were African pygmy hedgehogs, first imported into the United States from West Africa decades ago, and are now commonly grown at home. Although humans have made pets from several of the 17 species of hedgehogs in the world, this one is by far the most popular. And you will hardly find an animal that is better for online content. African pygmy hedgehogs fit in your hand and their spikes are not painful. Hedgehogs – that’s what hedgehog fans call both themselves and their pets – are said to be “poke” animals. It’s like a succulent has legs. One account called them “cacti in the lap.”