Echidnas have hair and spikes on their body.
They have big, strong claws for digging.
Echidnas live in thick forests.
An echidna has a long sticky tongue to catch termites and ants.
Echidnas dig themselves into the ground if they are chased.
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.
There are only three monotreme species (kinds) in the world,
Two of these species 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.
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.
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.
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.
Echidnas grow to about 40 centimetres in length. They weigh about 8 kilograms.
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.
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.
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.
The echidna is featured on the Australian five cent coin.