Also called Porcupine and Spiny Ant Eater. There are two distinct types of Echidnas. One is the Short-beaked, which eats termites, ants and other comunal insects. Found only in Australia. The second is the Long-beaked, which is only found in Papua New Guinea, eats earthworms and other larger insects, however their primary diet is worms.
Echidna’s do not have any particular habitat, they are equally at home in the bush or in towns. Nobody would disagree with the fact that they are much more at home in the bushland or open plains, than amongst houses.
When an Echidna feels threatened in any way, it assumes it’s defensive position. That of rolling itself into a bristling ball of quills.
Goannas are known to take young Echidnas. Ferel cats, dingoes and wild dogs also have been known to take the odd Echidna. Unfortunately their biggest danger comes from man himself. Quite a lot of them meet a sticky end on roads. They are not the best thing for tyres if you are unfortunate enough not to be able to avoid running over one on the road. Both the tyre and the Echidna are very much the worse for wear after an encounter.
The Echidna, like the Platypus lays eggs, normally one, but on the rare occasion, two. This she does by laying on her back until the egg emerges, then rolls it up her body to the pouch, which is nothing more than a fold of skin. The egg takes 10 days to hatch.
Babies are hairless and blind. They are suckled on milk that oozes from two mammary glands in the pouch. They do this by licking the milk rather than sucking. The baby is born with a single tooth, which it loses later. They remain suckling until they are 8 – 12 weeks old.
Once they begin to develop spines, they are evicted from the pouch, and remain in a burrow that the mother has prepared.
Although normally they will return at regular intervals during each day, they have been known to only return every 5 days to feed the babies. This has led people to believe that the babies have been abandoned, which is not the case.
They remain in the burrow until they are 6 months old.
Echidnas are covered with coarse hairs for warmth and the spines are also modified hairs. Much like the horn of a rhinoceros or our finger nails. The males have a spur on their hind legs as does the Platypus, however, they lack the venom of the Platypus.
They dislike cold weather and are more active in the warmer months of the year. They do have the capability of going into topor (hibernation) during the colder months. They are seen both by day and night, so are not nocturnal.
They grow to a size of 50 centimetres (20 inches) and weigh anything between 2 – 7 kilograms (4 – 14 lbs). In the animal world they are long livers. They have been known to live for over 40 years in captivity.
Their habitat covers the whole of Australia, deserts, mountains cities and towns.
They are equipped with a long sticky tongue, which it uses to collect ants and termites. They dig with their extremely powerful claws into an ants nest or termite mound, then insert their tongue to collect the ants. They crush the ants by chewing them between a horny pad on the back of their tongue and their palate.
Echidnas seem to have the perfect defense against dangers. They just simply disappear before your eyes, by burying themselves rapidly beneath the earth, resembling a subarine diving. They make no sounds apart from a snuffling snorting sound.
I have never met an Australian who has failed to be enchanted by this loveable prickly ball of spines, on the odd occasion when they have been privileged to see it.