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Echidna

Tachyglossus aculeatus

Echidna
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Echidna • Tachyglossus aculeatus
The Echidna belongs to a group of mammals called Monotremes, of which there are only two, the other being the Platypus.

There are two species of echidnas, one of which is restricted to the New Guinea highlands. The short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), or spiny ant eaters, are found throughout Australia.

Monotreme comes from the Greek mono-, single or one; + trema, hole. What this means is that the urinary, digestive and reproductive organs have a common opening.

DESCRIPTION:
Echidnas are dark brown in colour, although young echidna are lighter, and have hair and long spines covering their back, with only hair covering their soft under belly. They have ear openings but no external ears. The eyes are small and beady. The echidna has a long sensitive tube like snout, and a long thin tongue with sticky saliva that thrusts in and out of their small mouth at the end of the snout, and is the perfect tool for reaching into the ant and termite nests.

The echidna is adapted for very rapid digging, with short limbs and powerful claws. The claws on the hind feet are elongated and curve backwards, this enables the Echidna to clean and groom between the spines. Male echidnas have a spur on the hind feet.

Echidnas are also good swimmers, paddling about with only the snout and a few spines showing. They have been seen to cross wide beaches to swim and groom themselves in the sea.

1. Young Echidna at Coles Bay, Tasmania.
Click me for a full size image.

BREEDING:
Mating usually occurs in July and August, with a two to four week gestation period. The female lies on it’s back and gives birth to a leathery looking egg, which it transfers into a temporary pouch (not much more than a fold of skin on it’s underside), which develops at the onset of the breeding season. In about 10 days the egg hatches. The young remains in the pouch for about three months, suckling milk secreted from milk glands. After this time the mother leaves it in the burrow returning every 5 or 6 days to nurse it. The juveniles seem to emerge from the burrow about September.

A young Echidna is called a ‘puggle’.

DIET:
The echidnas diet is comprises ants and termites, although they will eat other invertebrates such as grubs, larvae and worms. The echidna uses its forepaws to open up the ant or termite nests and then probes the nest with its sensitive snout. Any insects in the nest are caught on the echidnas rapidly moving tongue, that can extends 15 cm, and is covered with a layer of sticky mucous, hence the name Tachyglossus meaning ‘fast tongue’. The jaws are narrow and have no teeth so food is crushed between hard pads which lie in the roof of the mouth and on the back of the tongue. Echidnas eat a lot of soil and ant-nest material when feeding, and this makes up the bulk of droppings. The dropping is quite distinctive, with an almost shiny cylindrical shape in which ant remains are easily distinguished.

2. Young Echidna at Coles Bay, Tasmania.

SELF DEFENCE:
The coat of an Echidna is made up of coarse hair and spines (modified hairs). The Echidna use their spines to protect themselves from danger by rolling into a ball or digging horizontally below the surface. An echidna can also wedge itself securely by extending its spines and limbs. If disturbed, echidnas will usually lower the head, and vigorously dig themselves into the ground leaving only the spines exposed. On hard surfaces the can curl into a ball, presenting defensive spines.

They grow up to 45 cm in length, weighing between 2 to 5 kg, and can live for a long time (up to 40 years), although these days it faces danger from men, many being killed on the road, or falling prey to feral cats and dogs. Other predators include eagles, dingoes, goannas, and the Tasmanian devils. Foxes are also considered a danger.

3. Young Echidna at Coles Bay, Tasmania.

WHERE TO SEE THEM:
Echidnas are shy and move slowly, but they can usually be approached by treading softly. A solitary animal for most of the year, although during the mating period, several males may follow a single female.

Echidnas can often be seen during the daytime as well as night, with their activities often being influenced by the temperature, in the warmer parts of Australia it is completely nocturnal, spending the daylight hours resting out of the heat. They can be found sheltered in rotten logs, stumps or burrows, or under bushes. In the more temperate areas foraging occurs around dusk, while echidnas in southern Australia are often active during the day, particularly during winter. Common throughout most of temperate Australia, they can be found foraging in forests, woodlands, deserts, mountain areas, and at the side of roads. In Tasmania, it is common in the dry open country on the east coast and can be found on the open heathlands.

The echidna pictured here (Coles Bay, Tasmania), was photographed during the late morning.

Source: much of the information have been sourced from the links below.

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Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Monotremata
Suborder:  
Family: Tachyglossidae
Genus: Tachyglossus
Species: T. aculeatus
- Short-beaked Echidna
Echidna • Other links
Parks & Wildlife, Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment
• Tasmania site with information that includes Echidnas and Platypus.
NatureBase, Department of Conservation and Land Management
• Provides info on flora and fauna, including the Echidna.
Australian Wildlife • info on some of Australia’s Wildlife, including the Echidna.
NSW Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES)NSW Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES) • Email
• The largest wildlife rescue organisation in Australia. Include info on Echidna.
 
NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service • Check out their fact sheets, includes the echidna.

Department of Anatomy & Physiology
• University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252-24, HOBART TAS 7001
• Ph: +61 3 6226 2678 • Fax: +61 3 6226 2679 • Email • All about Monotremes.


 

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