Have You Heard About the Curious Echidna?

February 24, 2019
Read all about the echidna, which is related to the hedgehog and porcupine. This marsupial sports quills and eats all kinds of insects and worms.

Even though at first glance it may appear to be a hedgehog, the characteristics of the curious echidna are truly unique.

The echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is, without a doubt, a unique animal. It belongs to the Tachyglossidae family and the subspecies Tachyglossa. In fact, it’s the only animal in this subspecies. 

These unusual animals owe their name to Echidna, a nymph in Greek mythology considered to be the mother of many legendary monsters. But, why are these animals so unique?

Characteristics of the curious echidna

The body of the echidna is compact and round, measuring between 12 to 20 inches and weighing up to 15.5 pounds. It has thick fur and long barbed quills composed of keratin. Conveniently, the quills act as a defense mechanism against predators.

The echidna has a long snout. It houses a long and sticky tongue that’s almost 8 inches long and is very handy for eating its diet of insects and worms. In place of teeth, there are spines in the roof of its mouth for chewing food.

A curious echidna with its spines out.

Echidnas are known to be great diggers. This is due to their powerful front paws as well as their back paws. The second digits on their back paws are larger than the rest of the digits. Therefore, they use them to scratch and clean themselves.

Reproduction and lactation

When reproducing, the female lays one single egg. The incubation period is 10 days and it takes place in the marsupium. Like that of the kangaroo, it has a pouch in the skin where babies stay for approximately 45 days.

The method of lactation of the little echidnas is also unique. Lacking nipples, the female secretes milk through the pores of her skin to feed the babies. Later, when they start to develop quills, she digs a burrow as a safe haven for her young. Then, 7 months later, the young echidna is ready to survive on its own.

The echidna in a field.

     These animals have long lives. In fact, there are registered cases of echidnas that have lived to be more than 50 years old. 

The habitat of the curious echidna

This one-of-a-kind animal lives in New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, and New Guinea. Generally speaking, it’s difficult to spot since it’s a nocturnal creature.  

In spite of what we may think, the echidna doesn’t hibernate. However, it enters into a deep sleep when the temperature goes above 77 degrees. As we can see, it’s one of the most curious and extraordinary animals to inhabit the earth.

 

  • Nicol, S. C., Andersen, N. A., Morrow, G. E., & Harris, R. L. (2018). Spurs, sexual dimorphism and reproductive maturity in Tasmanian echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus setosus). Australian Mammalogy.

 

  • Morrow, G. E., Jones, S. M., & Nicol, S. C. (2016). Interaction of hibernation and male reproductive function in wild Tasmanian echidnas Tachyglossus aculeatus setosus. Journal of Mammalogy97(3), 852-860.