| Spiny echidna|
Echidnas or spiny anteaters, are four species of the family Tachyglossidae, and found only in Australia (including Tasmania), New Guinea and nearby islands. They have the distinction, along with the Platypus, of being a “monotreme” - an egg-laying mammal – seemingly the most oxymoronic of beasts.
Echidnas have five toes per foot, the front ones sporting dangerously strong claws. The second toe from the inside on each foot is much longer than the others and is used for grooming as well as other things long sharp claws can be used for. They have a small head abaft a long naked snout which contains nostrils and the animal’s mouth with a long, thin, sticky tongue. They like grassy areas and open forest - rocky ground is preferred because of the availability of ants under stones and dead wood that they snuffle around and turn over in their constant search for food. They tend to be forever busy – although at a very slow pace when traveling. Their defence consists of digging themselves into the ground, using all four feet, until only their spiky back is showing. This tends to bewilder and put off any attacker immediately. On hard ground they roll themselves into a ball and depend on their spikes for protection.
They are between 14 and 20 inches long, and quite plump. They have spines which are really enlarged yellow or white hairs with sharp black tips and serve the same defensive purpose as a porcupine’s quills. The short-beaked echidna has a coat of cream or brown hairs covering its back, longer and interlocking towards the rear, with the Tasmanian subspecies having a shorter beak than its mainland counterparts. The New Guinea species of genus Zaglossus are quite different – longer legs, three toes, less snout and the mature animal can be almost without spines.
- Genus Tachyglossus
- Short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus; Southern New Guinea, Australian mainland, Tasmania.
- Genus Zaglossus
- Western long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus bruijni; New Guinea
- Sir David's long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus attenboroughi; New Guinea
- Eastern long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus bartoni; New Guinea
Echidnas mate from mid-winter into early spring. After mating, it is only two weeks before a single egg is laid from the female’s cloaka – its all-purpose ventral opening – directly into a pouch where the baby (called a puggle) is hatched, ten days later. The juvenile stays in the pouch most of the time during the lactation period although mother will leave them behind, hidden, while she makes the occasional forage. Echidnas have no nipples but there are two areas of skin where the young can source milk by sucking. The young outgrow the pouch at about 2 to 3 months and are weaned at about 6 months.
Reference:The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of Animal Life. 1982 p25