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Echidnas - An Australian Anteater
These fascinating little creatures are found in most parts of Australia. They are the short-beaked echidna, whilst the long-beaked echidna is found in Papua-New Guinea. Although the echidna eats termites and ants, it isn't really an anteater at all, being unrelated to that species.
The Latin name for echidnas is Tachyglossus aculeatus. Echidnas are an egg-laying monotreme, and are classified as a mammal. They are quite often seen foraging for food on the roadside, which is where we saw the echidna in the photo. It tried to hide itself from us in the leaves, so after taking the picture, we left it in peace.
How The Echidna Got Its Name
The Greeks had a very rich mythology, and one of the monsters was called Echidna. She is reputed to be the mother of most other monsters. She was half woman and half snake.
I guess they thought that an animal which was an egg-laying mammal was also half and half!
The echidna is related to the platypus, which is also an egg-laying monotreme.
The picture above was taken by benjamint444 and is on Wikimedia
Echidnas usually live alone, and they are not territorial. They live in many different types of habitat including forests, rainforest and drier areas.
Their diet is mainly ant and termites, but they do eat other things when available. These could include larvae, beetles, and even worms.
Echidnas are monotremes, which means they are egg-laying mammals. They usually breed in Spring, from June to September. The female develops a pouch during the breeding season, and the egg is laid in there. In approximately 10 days, the egg hatches, and a baby echidna emerges. Baby echidnas are called "puggles".
They are less than 2 cm long when hatched. The puggle will stay in the pouch, suckling, for up to three months. On occasions, the mother will leave the puggle in a burrow, while she goes out hunting for food.
Young echidnas usually stay with their mothers in the burrow for up to twelve months, during which time their spines develop fully. They may also still suckle a little.
When fully grown, an echidna may weigh up to 8 kilos, and they may be anything from 30 to 55 cm long. They probably live for about 10 years, although captive specimens may live for a few more years.
Have you ever seen an echidna?
We saw this young echidna on the roadside in Tasmania. It was probably looking for food, as it was in the drainage trench, a good place for ants, etc.
Tasmanian echidnas are furrier than the mainland animals, as it's a lot colder there than it is on the mainland. This one was quite small compared with others we've seen, so it's probably quite young. It's also a lot lighter than most adults we've seen.
More About The Echidna
The image is of a baby echidna born at Perth Zoo.
Echidnas have very strong claws and forelegs, to help with digging for food. The male has a spur on his hind legs, just as a male platypus does, but unlike the platypus, this spur is not poisonous.
Echidnas are covered with spines, which are actually modified hairs. On a trip to the bush, one of our party actually picked up an echidna - not a smart move, as his hands were covered with bleeding pinpricks. When threatened, echidnas roll up into a ball so that their soft, vulnerable parts are protected.
The echidna is a shy animal, and usually moves quite slowly. They are mainly nocturnal in the warmer parts of the country, but in cooler parts, may be seen foraging at dusk, or even during the day.
The snout is off great use to these animals, in finding their food; they will use it to detect either electrical impulses, or the smell of their prey. Echidnas will use their powerful claws to dig for food, or to tear open logs to reach it.
Echidnas are quite common, and are not considered to be endangered. Thy are thought to be the oldest surviving mammal in the world.
Echidna Close Up
Melbourne Zoo Echidna
This little echidna lives at Melbourne Zoo, Victoria, Australia. It's a great shot, because you can clearly see his nose and his claws, which he uses to find food.