Echidna

Echidna Facts
Size 14-30 inch (35-76 cm)
Speed Up to 22 mph (30 km/h)
Weight 5.5-22 lb (2.5-10 kg)
Lifespan 14-18 years, in the wild
Food Ants, termites, insects
Predators Dingos, foxes
Habitat Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania
Order Monotremes
Family Tachyglossidae
Scientific name Tachyglossidae
Characteristics Egg-laying mammal, long spines

Echidnas are monotremes. These are mammals that lays eggs instead of giving birth to their young. Echidnas live in cold forests in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. There are two kinds of echidna: the short-beaked echidna and the long-beaked echidna.

What Do Echidnas Eat?

Echidnas feed on ants, termites and other insects. They stick their noses into the ground, slurping quickly with their tongues to get ants and termites from the soil. An echnida’s tongue is 6-7 inch (15-18 cm) long, amounting to 30-50 % of its body length.

How Do Echidnas Live?

Echidnas are mostly active at twilight. In warmer areas, they are also active during the day, and they may also stay awake through the night in colder places. They spend most of their time looking for and slurping up ants and termites and snuffling through leaves, digging in the soil or breaking up rotting wood with their claws. When they’re sleeping or relaxing, they often hide under plants and roots, or in hollow trunks or holes in rock.

Echidna Echidna - Photo: Kristian Bell/Shutterstock

Importance for the Ecosystem

You can’t always tell at first glance why an animal is important for the balance of nature. Especially when it’s such a small, funny-looking animal. Researchers have discovered that echidnas dig up around 200 cubic meters of soil each year as they search for food. That’s over 1,300 bathtubs full of soil. As it digs, the animal loosens the soil and makes it more nutrient-dense.

Why Does the Echidna Have Spikes?

To defend themselves from wild dogs, foxes and dingoes. They grow up to 2.3 inch (6 cm) long!

What Do Echidnas Do When in Danger?

Echidnas have extraordinarily strong arms and can use their large, shovel-like claws to dig very quickly. If they have to get to safety, they simply dig a quick trough. In just a few seconds, only their spikey back is visible - no chance for attackers! If there’s nothing to dig, these animals roll up into balls or try to run away. Echidnas are also good climbers and swimmers.

Echidna Echidna - Photo: Ivana Svecova/Shutterstock

Where Are Their Ears?

Echidnas don’t have visible ears - but they do have them! They just look more like slits. Even through they don’t have an outer ear, these animals have excellent hearing.

Sense of Smell

Echidnas have a very good sense of smell. They have particularly sensitive noses that have electroreceptors. Receptors are special cells. The term comes from the Latin “recipere”, meaning “receive”. They use these receptors to perceive the electrical signals (e.g. muscle movements) of other animals - like the platypus.

Echidna Echidna - Photo: Natalia Golovina/Shutterstock

Low Body Temperature

Echidnas have a body temperature of just 86-89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (30-32 degrees Celsius). As a comparison, a human’s body temperature is around 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius).

Are Echidnas Endangered?

The short-beaked echidna is not an endangered animal but the long-beaked echidna subspecies is considered at high risk and critically endangered.

Reproduction

Echidnas generally lay just one egg a year. It’s not much bigger than a grape and is kept in the female’s belly pouch after laying. The baby echidna hatches after about 10 days. At this point, it’s just 0.47-0.59 inch (12-15 mm) in size and weighs just 0.05-0.07 oz (1.5-2 grams). It stays in the pouch for around 50 days, where it grows safely. Then it has to get out as it starts to develop its spines.

Echidna Echidna - Photo: Wonderly Imaging/Shutterstock

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