What’s white and grey, has quills, and is kind of cute?

It’s Percy the hedgehog, and 4-year-old Justin Toth of Stamford got to hold and pet him on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the Darien Nature Center.

Justin was at the nature center’s Tuesday Animal Meet & Greet with Molly, a brand-new program that started this fall.

The free, drop-in, hands-on program is open to all ages and is  taught by Molly Robertson, senior environmental educator and animal curator. It’s offered Tuesdays from 2:30 to 3 p.m. through Nov. 27.

As part of the program, each week, Robertson gives a presentation about a different animal and its habits, and then lets all participants hold the animal and ask questions about it.

The nature center has over 30 animals including turtles, frogs, ferrets, owls, gerbils, lizards, and prairie dogs.

The programs draws about 25 people each week of all ages, according to Robertson.  

Here comes Percy.

Everyone took a seat on the bench or floor facing Robertson as she presented Percy.

“This animal has only lived at the nature center for about four weeks,” Robertson told the children while they looked at Percy with curiosity. “He’s new and he’s a little shy.”

Robertson said hedgehogs are “spiny mammals.”

“Does anyone know what a mammal is?” she asked.

“A mammal has hair or fur on its body, has live babies, and feeds the babies its mommy’s milk,” she said.

“I want to see how [Percy] turns into a ball,” Justin said, “and how he eats worms.”

Justin got the chance to hold Percy and watched while Percy wiggled through his fingers.

He said he doesn’t own a hedgehog a home but added that he does have a “pet fish named Chase.”

“He is a blue battlefish,” Justin said.

Jane We, 3, of Stamford, also got the hold Percy. “It was funny,” she said.

Stamford resident Harper Shea, who is also 3, said she liked watching Percy eat worms.

Harper has a dog named “Dublin” and a fish named “Dory.” Percy made a “clicking sound” when she held him, Harper said.

Heidi Carter of Stamford, 3, said Percy felt “spiky” when she pet him.

Robertson showed the class Percy’s quills.

“Why do you think Percy has his quills?” she asked.

“Quills are hollow. They are like straws,” she said.

Everyone watched intently while Percy ate some live worms.

Robertson said Percy is able to curl into a ball and tuck his head inside it.

Then, she asked everyone to try curling into a ball themselves.

The class learned that hedgehogs are from Europe and Africa, and live for about seven years. They also learned hedgehogs are solitary animals and that they protect themselves in the wild.

“Hedgehogs spit on themselves, make their spit into foam and then they put it in their quills,” Robertson said. “No one is quite sure why they do that. They think it's a defense mechanism.  The spit is foamy and stinky and they spread that stinky spit on them and it helps protect them.”

Robertson read some books about hedgehogs and other animals.

The children then took part in a craft where they got to make a pretend hedgehog out of a pear and spaghetti.

Robertson said the purpose of the animal meet and greet is to “connect with our visitors.”

“We like to get the community engaged in understanding and caring about nature,” she said.

The program is also offered Saturdays at 10: 30 a.m. through Dec. 1. The Saturday class, called Animal Meet & Greet, is a repeat of the class held the prior Tuesday. The program is not open Nov. 6.

The Darien Nature Center, at 120 Brookside Road, is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 203-655-7459.