Red fluorescence of European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) spines results from free-base porphyrins of potential microbial origin

Randy Hamchand, Amy M. Lafountain, Rhea Büchel, Kendra R. Maas, Sarah M. Hird, Martin Warren, Harry A. Frank, Christian Brückner

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Bioluminescence has been recognized as an important means for inter- and intra-species communication. A growing number of reports of red fluorescence occurring in keratinaceous materials have become available. The fluorophore(s) in these cases were shown to be, or suspected to be, free base porphyrins. The red fluorescence found in the downs of bustards was associated with inter-species signaling in mate selection. First reported in 1925, we confirm that spines of the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) when irradiated with UV (365–395 nm) light display red fluorescence localized in the light-colored sections of their proximal ends. Using reflectance fluorescence spectroscopy, we confirmed that the fluorophores responsible for the emission are free-base porphyrins, as suspected in the original report. Base-induced degradation of the spine matrix and subsequent HPLC, UV-vis, and ESI+ mass spectrometry analysis revealed the presence of a mixture of coproporphyrin III and uroporphyrin III as predominant porphyrins and a minor fraction of protoporphyrin IX. Investigation of the spine microbiome uncovered the abundant presence of bacteria known to secrete and/or interconvert porphyrins and that are not present on the non-fluorescing quills of the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Given this circumstantial evidence, we propose the porphyrins could originate from commensal bacteria. Furthermore, we hypothesize that the fluorescence may be incidental and of no biological function for the hedgehog.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)588-596
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number6
Early online date4 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Biofluorescence
  • Commensal Bacteria
  • Hedgehogs
  • Microbiome
  • Porphyrins

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