|Scientific name||Tachyglossus aculeatus|
|Length||12 inches (30 cm)|
|Weight||5-13 pounds (2.2-5.9 kg)|
|Life span||50 years|
|Number of eggs||1 at a time|
|Age of maturity||5-12 years|
Echidnas live in many different habitats in Australia. They can live in rain forests, swamps, bush areas, and even deserts. At the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, you can see an echidna in the Australia After Dark exhibit.
Echidnas eat small animals like ants, termites, worms, grubs, and other small invertebrates. At the zoo, echidnas eat canned meat and a leaf-eater diet that is mixed into a liquid “shake.”
They look like…well…echidnas
Echidnas are often called “spiny anteaters” because the upper part of their body and tail are covered in long, sharp spines. The pointed spines are mixed with coarse, brown hair covering their round bodies. Echidnas have a tubular hairless snout, no teeth, and weak jaws. They grab insects by extending their long, sticky tongue six to seven inches beyond the tip of their snout. The claws and beak are used to dig into nests of termites and ants to find food. Their small mouth and nostrils are located at the tip of the snout, which helps them search for food in the soil and leaf litter. The snout forms a bill-like structure that can pry under rocks and logs to find food. The mouth can only be opened enough to allow its tongue to pass through. Echidnas have small eyes that are well developed but not as useful while foraging in ant mounds or when underground. It’s very difficult to tell the difference between males and females. Some males have a horny, hollow spur on the ankle of the hind limb, but some females also have spurs.
A ramblin’ mammal
Even though they have poor eyesight, echidnas may travel great distances by relying on a keen sense of smell and good hearing. These almost silent animals walk in a rolling, waddling way, partially due to the fact that their rear feet point backwards which helps with digging. They hide under thick bushes, piles of debris, and in hollow logs. Echidnas curl into a ball of spines if frightened or burrow straight down if they are in soft soil. If flipped over on their back, they will use their spines to flip back right-side up. They rely more on their sense of smell and hearing. An echidna’s hearing is so good it can hear a person approaching and take cover long before being seen. Echidnas are difficult to study in the wild because they burrow in the ground, don’t follow a set pattern of behavior and can be active at any time, day or night.
The birth of an echidna
Echidnas are one of the few mammals that lay eggs. Egg laying mammals belong to a group called monotremes. A dime sized, leathery-shelled egg is laid directly into a temporary pouch on the mother. After ten days, a helpless, half-inch inch long offspring hatches. Similar to marsupials, the young are very underdeveloped when they hatch, and they must stay in the mother’s pouch in order to complete their development. The young, called a puggle, leaves its mother’s pouch after several weeks when it begins to grow spines. At that point, the mother sets it in a hollow or cave, where she returns every three to six days to feed it. When it is about seven to eight months old and weighs two to four pounds, it becomes fully independent and moves out.
A little bit of everything
Echidnas are described as having a beak of a bird, spines of a hedgehog, eggs like a reptile, the pouch of a marsupial, and the life span of an elephant.