The Echidna or spiny anteater is divided into two species: Tachyglossus aculeatus (short-beaked echidna) and Zaglossus bruijni (long-beaked echidna). Native to Australia (the former) and New Guinea (the latter), echidnas are the only other mammals besides the platypus that lays eggs. Their name came from the Greek goddess Ekhidna who was half snake and half woman.
The short-beaked echidna habitat varies from regions that experience winter and snow to deserts. They shelter under thick bushes, in hollow logs, under rocks, clefts, caves, or in burrows. Long-beaked echidna inhabit mountain forests, or highly elevated alpine meadows scrublands.
Echidnas have barbless quills or spines on their backs and sides—these spines provide defense when threatened. Echidna have a small face with a long stiffened snout, or “beak.” Like the platypus, males have an ankle spur on their hind legs, although it is not poisonous. Echidna are 14 to 30 inches long and weigh 5 ½ to 22 pounds. Long-beaked echidna have more fur than short-beaked ones. They use their short, stout limbs for scratching and digging in the soil.
When a baby echidna hatches in its mother’s pouch—usually only one egg is laid and the female pushes it into the pouch—it is .47 inches long and weights .02 ounces. The baby “nurses” by lapping up the milk that is secreted in the mother’s pouch. A baby echidna’s spines don’t break out for about 53 days. After that the mother puts it in a burrow.
Echidnas favorite food is termites or ants, but they also eat beetles, scarab and moth larvae, and worms. Their long tongue is covered in sticky saliva. Tachyglossus means fast tongue. Echidnas can also bend the end of their tongue into a U shape to block the end of the termite or ant tunnel. They have no teeth, but grind their food between two horny plates. Echidnas are solitary animals, except for mating, and females raising young.
Fun Echidna Facts
- An echidna’s tongue can be 6 inches long.
- When seen at the zoo, echidnas are often thought to be porcupines or hedgehogs.
- The long-beaked echidna is endangered.
- A baby echidna is called a puggle.
- Male echidna’s have a pouch just like the female does.
- Echidnas are excellent swimmers.
Animal Diversity Web
The San Diego Zoo