Scientific Name– Tachyglossus aculeatus

Conservation Status– Least Concern

echidna

Appearance

The short beaked echidna is sometimes referred to as a spiky anteater. They are most noticeable due to their yellow spines which are on their backs. These spikes are actually modified hairs which measure about 50mm. Beneath the spines the echidna has a smaller hairs coloured cream, browny-red or black to keep them warm. The echidna has brown coloured skin which is mostly on noticeable on their face. The face features a Pinocchio like snout which protrudes out about 7.5cm (3 in). This snout is also occasionally known as a beak. The echidna has a short tail.

The short beaked echidna is between 30 and 45cm (12 to 18in) in length. Echidnas weight between 2 and 5 kg (4.4 and 11lb).

Lifespan                                                                                  

The echidna will live for 30-40 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity.

Diet

The echidna is a carnivore which lives on a diet of insects. Echidnas live on termites, grubs, larvae and worms.

Habitat

Short beaked echidnas can be found throughout Australia and Southern New Guniea.

The short beaked echidna will live in many of the different habitats in these countries. Some of their favourite areas to live are deserts, scrubland or forests which have many logs filled with termites.

echidna

Reproduction

The short beaked echidna will live a solitary lifestyle till July when they will come together so they can mate with the breeding season lasting till August. A train of up to 10 males will follow the female for up to 4 weeks until she decides to mate with one of them.

The echidna is a unique marsupial as it lays eggs. This means it is known as a monotreme. It is one of only 2 egg-laying marsupials in the world. The egg is deposited directly into the pouch of the echidna. After 10 days the egg will hatch and a tiny puggle which is only 1.5cm in length.

The puggle will grip onto special hairs in the mothers pouch using its see through claws. Monotremes lack the nipples that most mammals have. Instead they have 100-150 pores on a milk patch where milk is secreted. The puggle sucks these patches to ingest the milk.

The puggle spends its first 53 days of life inside the pouch. At the 53 days mark the first spines will begin to break through and the mother will deposit it into a burrow to which she returns at 7 to 10 days intervals to provide it with food. This continues until 7 months of age where they can venture out on their own.

Echidnas reach sexual maturity between 5 and 12 years of age.

Behaviour

Echidnas have sensors in the end of the snout. These pick up electrical signals from insects. The snout can then be used to rip apart logs and plow up the floor to find insects.

Dingoes are the only natural predators of the echidna. Introduced predators including cats, dogs and foxes also prey upon the short beaked echidna. Fires and droughts can contribute to loss of life among echidna populations.

The echidna can dig as well as a human utilising a shovel. As such to avoid a predator they will dig a hole in the ground and only expose their spines making it difficult for a predator to attack them. Another defence mechanism is to curl up into a ball hiding their hands and face.

Short beaked echidnas are proficient swimmers and tree climbers.

Short beaked echidnas are active during the day. This is not possible during warm weather though as they cannot pant nor do they sweat. As such at these times they will burrow and emerge at night.

Quick facts

The echidna features on Australia’s 5 cent piece

Millie the echidna was a mascot for Sydney’s 2000 Olympic games.

Sonic the hedgehog character Knuckles is based on short beaked echidna

Both sexes of echidna have a pouch so it is difficult to tell them apart externally

The echidnas taxonomic name, Tachyglossidae, translates to fast tongue

Photo Credits:

Top:                       “Short-beaked Echidna Tasmania” by KeresH – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Short-beaked_Echidna_Tasmania.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Short-beaked_Echidna_Tasmania.jpg

Bottom:               “Echinda burningwell” by Allan Whittome (Whitto) – http://www.burningwell.org/gallery2/v/Animals/echinda.jpg.html. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Echinda_burningwell.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Echinda_burningwell.jpg