Echidnas also known as spiny anteaters is an unusual mammal.
It is so different from any other that it still puzzles researchers and scientists.
There are four species of Echidna:
• Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
• Western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijni)
• Eastern long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni)
• Sir David’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi)
Echidnas evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago, descending from a platypus-like monotreme. This ancestor was aquatic, but echidnas adapted to life on land.
The echidna has remained unchanged since prehistoric times, finding ways to survive while other species became extinct.
The four species of echidna are the only surviving members of the order Monotremata, and are the only living mammals that lay eggs.
Echidnas are found throughout New Guinea and mainland Australia, as well as Tasmania, King Island, Flinders Island and Kangaroo Island. They are Australia’s most widespread native mammal, being found in almost all habitats, from snow covered mountains to deserts.
The lifespan of echidnas is about 15 years in the wild. The longest recorded lifespan for a captive echidna is 50 years.
Echidnas are from 35.5 to 76 cm (14 to 30 inches) long and weigh 2.5 to 10 kilograms (5.5 to 22 lbs.).
They have beady eyes and mere slits for ears, and at the end of their beaks are two small nostrils and a tiny mouth.
Echidnas have spines covering their stout bodies. Their spines can grow up to 5 centimeters (2 inches) long.
These creatures have an extra-long claw on the second toe that they use to groom their spines.
Echidnas curl up into a spine-covered ball in a rather effective method of defense.
They are powerful diggers and can wedge themselves into a burrow or crevice with their spines so that they are difficult to remove.
The eyes don’t help the echidna see well, but its acute sense of hearing and smell give this unusual mammal the information it needs to know to survive.
These creatures can be active day or night, probing along the ground slowly and deliberately as they search for prey, but they will shelter themselves from extreme midday heat in burrows or caves.
The diet of some species consists of ants and termites, but they are not closely related to the true anteaters of the Americas.
The echidna’s snout is very sensitive to touch and can feel vibrations.
At 33 °C (91.4 °F), the echidna possess the second lowest active body temperature of all mammals, behind the platypus.
Echidnas are largely solitary creatures and only convene to mate. Mating season spans from July to August.
The female lays a single soft-shelled, leathery egg 22 days after mating, and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes place after 10 days of gestation; the young echidna, called a puggle, born larval and fetus-like, then sucks milk and remains in the pouch for 45 to 55 days,at which time it starts to develop spines. The mother digs a nursery burrow and deposits the young, returning every five days to suckle it until it is weaned at seven months. Puggles will stay within their mother’s den for up to a year before leaving.
The echidnas are named after Echidna, a creature from Greek mythology who was half-woman, half-snake, as the animal was perceived to have qualities of both mammals and reptiles.
In spite of echidnas’ outward resemblance to hedgehogs, the two animals are not related and belong to separate mammalian orders.
The Sir David’s long-beaked echidna is named after British naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
The taxonomic family name for echidnas, Tachyglossidae, means “fast tongue.”