If you don't follow Lionel the Hedgehog on Instagram, we highly recommend that you stop what you're doing and get on your phone right now: his handle is lionelthehog. Got it? OK, cool, now we can proceed.
Lionel, who has 99,000 Instagram followers, is owned by Anna Mathias, a local PR consultant and cellist. If you're thinking that Lionel and his mom have a cooler life than you, then you are correct. Together, they hit the streets of Charleston, taking pictures around town — from the looks of it, Lionel enjoys sunsets, baths, and sitting in cups.
Mathias got Lionel two years ago when her little sister's friend needed a new home for the pet. "It's pretty much like a hamster. They're spiky hamsters." says Mathias of hedgehog care, which includes a wheel (much like hamsters have) for exercise. "They can run five to seven miles a night," she says. She feeds Lionel — and his new mate, Lilo, who Mathias got a few months ago — cat food and sometimes fruit. If he's being really good? "Worms are like McDonalds for them," she says.
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Lionel's fame sort of started by accident. It began when Mathias made the hedgehog his own Instagram account. "I didn't want to annoy my friends on my normal account," she says. Then Joe Jonas — yes, of former boy band The Jonas Brothers fame — reposted a pic of Lionel, and well, nearly a 100,000 followers later, he's a celebrity.
"It was the ice cream picture," recalls Mathias of the Jonas pic. The ice cream pic is what it sounds like (or not depending on how many animals you follow online): Lionel sitting as a whole scoop of 'hog in a sprinkles-dipped cone. If it's good enough for a Jonas brother ...
"I just started this because I wanted a collection of pictures — it wasn't meant to be famous at all. Joe Jonas posted that one and that blew it up a little bit," says Mathias. And by "blew up" she means that her number of followers went from 1,000 to about 8,000 overnight — small potatoes compared to Lionel's fame now. Buzzfeed wrote about Lionel last year in an investigative piece of sorts, "21 Reasons You Should Follow Lionel the Hedgehog on Instagram." Reasons include, "He's quite the athlete," Lionel with a mini soccer ball — like really mini; "Nap time is his absolute favorite," Lionel conked out on what appears to be a bath loofah; and "He has a cute 'sister,'" Lionel with Olive, Mathias' pomeranian-chiuahua.
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And while Lionel isn't particularly fond of Olive — "He curls up every time he sees her. That usually means they're scared" — he does OK with his new little sis, Lilo. "We don't leave them alone together, though," says Mathias. Because, yep, you guessed it, she doesn't want them to mate.
Having a hedgehog isn't all glamorous photoshoots in coffee mugs, or in Lilo's case, next to mini purses. The little creatures are nocturnal, so when Mathias has Lionel or Lilo out during the day, they're prone to grumpiness. And, in case you hadn't figured it out by the looks of them, hedgehogs aren't particularly cuddly either. "Sometimes he cuddles, but it hurts," laughs Mathias. Plus, hedgehogs shed their quills when they grow and sometimes they shed little strands that look like dog hair. They need their nails clipped, which Mathias says is no small task. And, being like hamsters, they poop, a lot, and then walk through it. Please see "baths," mentioned above
Lionel is an African pygmy hedgehog, the most common domestic hedgehog not to be confused with the European hedgehog, which is a bit larger and has darker colored quills. Hedgehogs will cost you between $75-$250 and you can find them in petstores or online on sites like Craigslist, which is where Mathias found Lilo. "That was an impulse purchase," she laughs. But what else can you do once you've gone hog wild? "I can't imagine not having one now," she says.