Together with the platypus, echidnas are the world’s only monotremes, or egg-laying mammals.
Echidnas, sometimes known as spiny ant eaters, belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals.
The first detailed description of the echidna was published in England in 1792. A decade later, another account included a meticulous drawing by Captain William Bligh, who had feasted on roast echidna years earlier during a post-mutiny stopover in Australia.
There are two types of echidnas — the short-beaked echidna and the long-beaked echidna. Aside from the obvious fact that the short-beaked echidna has a shorter snout than its long-beaked cousin, there are other noticeable differences between the two species:
The short-beaked echidna is smaller and lighter than the long-beaked echidna. They have more spines on its back than the long-beaked echidna. The short-beaked echidna likes to use its sticky tongue to lick off ants and termites, whereas the long-beaked echidna prefers to use its gluey tongue to pick up earthworms.
Echidnas are very unusual mammals because they lay eggs. Mammals that lay eggs are called monotremes. The tiny echidna baby is called a puggle. It’s smaller than a jellybean. A single egg is laid two weeks after copulation and hatches after about ten days. The baby in the pouch sucks milk exuded from numerous pores as echidnas do not have well developed teats.
The echidna’s snout is between 7 and 8 cm long, and is stiffened to enable the animal to break up logs and termite mounds when searching for food. The body, with the exception of the underside, face and legs, is covered with cream coloured spines. These spines, which reach 50 mm in length, are in fact modified hairs.
For most of the year echidnas are solitary animals, although each animal’s territory is large and often overlaps with that of other echidnas. They are found throughout Australia; have overlapping home ranges but tend to be solitary except for mating.
The echidna is common throughout most of temperate Australia and lowland New Guinea.
The diet of echidnas is largely made up of ants and termites, although, they will eat other invertebrates especially grubs, larvae and worms.
The echidna’s neocortex, associated with reasoning and personality in humans, accounts for nearly half its brain’s volume, compared to about 30 percent in so-called higher mammals.
Threats: Echidnas did not have many predators before white man arrived in Australia, dingoes being about the only animal known to eat them on occasion, the goanna may also take puggle. Now there are cats, cars, foxes, dingoes, habitat destruction and alteration have undoubtedly affected the distribution and abundance of the Echidna despite still being regarded as common. Echidnas have a great memory, and it is unlikely that it will return, once realising that the area is not safe. Never relocate an Echidna, it is impossible to tell if it is a male or a female, and as they leave their young in the nest whilst foraging for food, it is important they are able to return.