Echidnas, sometimes also referred to as "spiny anteaters", are the only surviving monotremes apart from the Platypus. The four surviving species, native to New Guinea and Australia, all belong to the Tachyglossidae family. The echidna is named after a monster in ancient Greek mythology.
Echidnas are classified into two genera. The Zaglossus genus includes three extant species and two extinct species known only from fossils, while only one species from the genus Tachyglossus is known.
- The Western Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bruijni) of the highland forests.
- Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), recently discovered, and prefers a still higher habitat.
- The Eastern Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bartoni), of which 4 distinct subspecies have been identified
The two extinct species are:
The Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is found in south east New Guinea and also occurs in almost all Australian environments: from the snow-clad Australian Alps to the deep deserts of the Outback: essentially anywhere that ants and termites are available. Its size is smaller than the Zaglossus species and it has longer hair.
Echidnas are small mammals that are covered with coarse hair and spines. Superficially they resemble both the anteaters of South America and other spiny mammals like hedgehogs and porcupines. They have snouts which have the functions of both the mouth and nose. Their snouts are elongated and slender. They have very short, strong limbs with large claws and are powerful diggers. Echidnas have a tiny mouth and a toothless jaw. They feed by tearing open soft logs, anthills and the like, and using their long, sticky tongue which protrudes from their snout to collect their prey. The Short-beaked Echidna's diet consists largely of ants and termites, while the Zaglossus species typically eat worms and insect larvae.
The four species of echidna, along with the Platypus, are the only egg-laying mammals. The female lays a single soft-shelled, leathery egg twenty-two days after mating and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes ten days; the young echidna, called a puggle, then sucks milk from the pores of the two milk patches (monotremes have no nipples) and remains in the pouch for forty-five to fifty-five days, at which time it starts to develop spines. The mother digs a nursery burrow and deposits the puggle, returning every five days to suckle it until it is weaned at seven months.
In popular culture
Some characters in the Sonic the Hedgehog video game series are echidnas, including Knuckles and Tikal.
In the BBC TV series The Koala Brothers, Sammy the Echidna runs the General Store.
An echidna named "Millie" was used as one of the mascots for the 2000 Olympic Games.
The Pokemon Cyndaquil, bears a resemblance to the echidna, as well as having a similar-sounding name.
- Flannery, T.F. and Groves, C.P. 1998 A revision of the genus Zaglossus (Monotremata, Tachyglossidae), with description of new species and subspecies. Mammalia, 62(3): 367-396
- Parker, Janet "Echidna Love Trains", "Scribbly Gum" online magazine, http://www.abc.net.au/science/scribblygum/June2000/default.htm
- Rismiller, Peggy "Echidnas and Goannas of Kangaroo Island", http://www.earthwatch.org/results/interviews/rismiller.html
- Groves, Colin (16 November 2005). Wilson, D. E., and Reeder, D. M. (eds): Mammal Species of the World, 3rd edition, Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 1-2. ISBN 0-801-88221-4.
- Animal Diversity Web Tachyglossidae
- Echidna Central web directory
- "The Enigma of the Echidna" by Doug Stewart, National Wildlife, April/May 2003.
- New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service on behavior of short-beaked echidnas
- Website of the Pelican Lagoon Research and Wildlife Center, on the frontlines of echidna research
- Australian Wildlife, concise but broad range of information
- Scribbly Gum - Australian Broadcasting Corporation online magazine, article "Echidna Love Trains": Echidna spotting, Trains (breeding behaviour), The amazing puggle (young), Species, Dreaming (REM sleep), Managing populations; June 2000
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