YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
This week’s bug-munching buddy got its name because scientists thought it was a mix of reptile and mammal.
It’s a weird one for sure, but weird can also be Wowzerful.
This week, we’re looking at one of the world’s last remaining monotremes—the echidna!
Echidnas feature an interesting mix of traits that make them one of the more unique creatures on the planet.
They are native to Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea but their elusive nature can make them tricky to research in the wild.
As medium-sized mammals, they grow to an average size of about 35 to 61 cm (14 to 24 inches) long, with their snout often being one of the biggest size differences between species.
Their body is covered in acombination of hair and spikes. Some spikes are more than 5 centimetres (roughly 2 inches) long!
These spikes allow the echidna to curl up in a spiky ball to fend off potential predators such as dingoes, eagles, foxes, and Tasmanian devils.
You'll find a beak extending from the front of the echidna’s face, but they’re not hard like a duck's. Instead, they’re rubbery!
These traits combine to give echidnas one of their nicknames—the spiny anteater.
Echidnas often use their beaks to dig into hollow logs, soil, or termite mounds in search of their favourite food—insects and worms!
When swimming, their beaks can also act as a snorkel!This keeps them safely out of site without having to hold their breath.
They also have strong, clawed front feet which can be used to dig in search of treats.
Once they’ve found their prey, a long sticky tongue helps them gather loads of bugs into their mouth.
There, they’ll grind them into a paste using the plates (not teeth!) in their mouthbefore swallowing.
Echidnas are mammals that lay eggs, which is extremely rare. The platypus is the only other animal alive today that does this.
Mama echidnas produce a soft, leathery egg after being pregnant for three weeks. The egg then sits in her pouch for another 10 days to incubate before the baby echidna—also known as a puggle—is born!
They’re not born with spikes, so they’ll continue to hang out in mom’s pouch for another couple of months while they grow and learn to defend themselves.
As adults, echidnas will create homes in logs and rocks or burrow into the ground. There, they’ll safely raise their young and hibernate through most of the winter.
The average echidna's lifespan is about 16 years in the wild, though captive echidnas can live for decades—with the current record being 50 years!
This lifespan is thought to be a result of their slower metabolism and laid-back personalities.
Long-beaked echidnas (which make up three of the four echidna species alive today) are critically endangered. However, conservation groups are working hard to help the remaining populations of these quirky, Wowzerful creatures.
Short-beaked echidna populationsare very healthy, with the species enjoying notoriety as one of the most widespread mammals in Australia!
Echidnas don’t have ear flaps like many animals. Instead, there are two slits just behind its eyes which often remain hidden by their hair and spikes.
Echidnas play host to the Bradiopsylla echidnae or echidna flea—a parasite with the dubious title of world's largest flea coming in at 4 mm (0.15 inches) long.
Researchers have discovered that echidnas can burrow into the ground during wildfires, hiding from the heat and flames, and later emerge unhurt.
A female echidna’s pouch only exists during or shortly after pregnancy. Once the young puggle is out of the burrow, the pouch will disappear completely!
Meet Yella the echnida and see its Wowzerful anatomy up close in this episode of Wild Times.