Echidna (say e-kid-nuh)
Echidnas have hair and spikes on their body.
They have big claws.
Echidnas live in thick forests.
An echidna has a long sticky tongue to catch termites and ants.
Echidnas dig into the ground if they are chased.
The echidna belongs to a special group of mammals called monotremes, which are animals that lay eggs. There are only three monotremes in the world, and two of them are echidnas. The short-beaked echidna is found in Australia and the long-beaked echidna is found in New Guinea. The other monotreme, the platypus (say plat-i-puss) is also found in Australia.
The echidna eats only ants and termites. It uses its long, sticky tongue to lick up ants and termites. 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's Body
An echidna is covered with hair and with sharp spines on its back and sides. Its underside is covered with hair. The spines protect the animal from enemies. The echidna can roll up into a ball of spikes that enemies leave alone, or it digs fast so it seems to sink into the ground, leaving only spikes showing.
Echidnas grow to be about 40 centimetres long. They weigh about 8 kilograms.
Echidna spines. photograph ©  Jupiterimages Corporation
The echidna has a snout and a long sticky tongue. It has an excellent sense of smell. The echidna doesn't have teeth, but it has hard pads inside its mouth to grind up the ants and termites before swallowing them.
The echidna has long, sharp claws on its feet. It uses them to dig open ant and termite nests. It also uses them to dig rapidly into the ground to escape from enemies such as eagles, dingoes, and in Tasmania, the Tasmanian Devil.
After mating with a male, a female echidna digs a burrow, curls up her body, and lays one egg directly into her pouch. The egg does not have a hard shell like a bird's egg, but a rather leathery skin instead. The egg hatches in about 10 days. Inside the pouch, the jellybean-sized 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. 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.
Find out more about echidnas here:
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updated January 2012 ©kidcyber