A special animal group

The echidna (say eh-kid-nuh), also called spiny anteater,  belongs to a special group of mammals called monotremes,  which are animals that lay eggs but feed their babies milk.

An echidna in a hollow log ©Getty Images

An echidna in a hollow log ©Getty Images

There are only three monotremes in the world, and two of them are echidnas. The short-beaked echidna is found in Australia and the southern 

part of New Guinea,  and the long-beaked echidna is found only in New Guinea.

 ©Getty Images

 ©Getty Images

The only other monotreme, found only in Australia, is the platypus.

Echidnas are found throughout Australia, in a wide range of habitats and climates. They shelter in rocks or logs.

Behaviours

Echidnas are solitary animals, meaning they live alone, meeting up at breeding times when there will be a group of males following a female.

Echidnas have an excellent sense of smell, using their snouts to poke about  through leaf litter and rotten logs in the search for food.  

Echidna spines ©Getty Images

Echidna spines ©Getty Images

Body

An echidna is covered with hair and with sharp spines on its back and sides. Its underside is covered with hair. Echidnas that live in colder areas have fewer spines and thicker hair. The spines protect the animal from enemies. If threatened, the echidna can roll up into a ball of spikes that predators leave alone.

The echidna can also dig so fast that it seems to sink into the ground, leaving only spikes showing, to escape threats from animals such as eagles, dingoes, and in Tasmania, the Tasmanian Devil.

An echidna searching for ants in a log. ©Getty Images

An echidna searching for ants in a log. ©Getty Images

Echidnas grow to about  40 centimetres in length. They weigh about 8 kilograms.

Diet

The echidna has a snout and a long sticky tongue. It eats ants and termites almost exclusively, but also eats tiny beetles or even worms. The thin tongue is like a whip and shoots out amongst the insects, which stick to it and are whipped into the echidna's tiny mouth when the tongue goes back in. The echidna doesn't have teeth, but it has hard pads inside its mouth to grind up its food before swallowing.  It uses the long, sharp claws on its feet to tear open ant and termite nests and rotten logs. 

Life Cycle

A female echidna has a pouch on her belly that only develops when she is pregnant and disappears after the baby no longer needs it.  After mating with a male, a  female echidna digs a burrow, curls up her body, and lays one egg directly into her pouch. 

A puggle beginning to develop hair. ©Getty Images

A puggle beginning to develop hair. ©Getty Images

The egg does not have a hard shell like a bird's egg, but a rather leathery skin instead.

The egg hatches in about 15 days. Inside the pouch, the raisin-sized hairless baby echidna licks milk that oozes from its mother's body.

When its spines start to grow, the baby is moved into a burrow by its mother. Nursery burrows are about a metre long with a 'room' at the end.  

A baby echidna is called a puggle. The female feeds the puggle until it is about 6 or 7 months old, after which time the young echidna fends for itself.

In the wild, an echidna can live for up to 16 years.

echidnacoin_TS.jpg

The echidna is featured on the Australian five cent coin.

 

 

 

Read more about echidnas:

http://www.neatorama.com/2013/09/22/5-Fascinating-Facts-Echidna/

Watch videos to see puggles in the pouch and burrow, an adult in the forest:

http://www.arkive.org/short-beaked-echidna/tachyglossus-aculeatus/video-09b.html

See an orphaned puggle being hand fed at a zoo animal hospital:

http://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/35323559244