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Echidna
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Echidna  
  When westerners discovered the Echidnas they were puzzled by these very strange creatures. They are warm blooded, have hair and produce milk to feed their young like all mammals and their skull is similar to the skull of other mammals. Yet they lay leathery shells, as reptiles do and parts of their skeleton is more like a reptiles than a mammals.

The only other hairy, warm blooded animal in the world that lays eggs and produces milk for it's young is the Platypus. Not only being like a reptile and mammal, it had a bill like a ducks!

Now these two mammals have their own group called "monotremes" that is mammals that lay eggs.

  Echidna

  Scientists have classified echidnas in the family Tachyglossidae - the family name comes from two Greek words meaning "fast tongue" this describes the echidnas most important feature - it's long tongue.

The animal is named after Echidna, a scary monster from an ancient Greek legend. According to this legend Echdina was killed by a bold young warrior. The warrior filled Echidnas body with arrows - just like the animal today is full of spines.

There is two types of Echidna one had a longer snout than the other. The shorter snout has lives in a Australia and New Guinea and is called the Short beaked Echidna the other lives in the New Guinea highlands and has a longer curved snout. It eats earthworms and larger insects from leaf litter.

They have a long thin snout and small mouth, short stubby legs and spines all over the back and sides. They can be creamy brown or much darker and the spines vary in colour. Each spine has a dark tip and light band. The spines are really large stiff hairs like a Hedgehog or Porcupines. More normal hairs grow between the spines and on their face, belly and legs.

In Tasmania the hairs may cover the spines to help insulate from the colder climate.

  Echidna rear paw

 Echidnas have two toes on their hind feet with extra long claws which can reach down between the spines. They can lower their body temperature in cold weather, they become torpid and hibernate they have trouble keeping their body temperature at a constant level. In the hot weather they shelter during the extreme heat of the day and forage at night time.

They eat ants and termites, they tend to live alone except for breeding time July - August. They move around by day and their camouflage of natural colours and short legs they blend into the Australian environment. If disturbed on hard ground that will try and run away or if on soft ground will dig in and sinks below the ground in an instant. Both front and back legs quickly dig away the dirt below so that the Echidna's whole body sinks down at once. The short stout legs with their wide flattened feet, five toes on each make strong and effective shovels. The leg bones are firmly attached to the body skeleton, which means that the legs cannot move freely but dig and grip strongly. If the Echidna is disturbed in a place where it cannot run away or dig-in it will curl into a tight ball to protect it's soft belly.

 

 The Echidnas skill at digging not only protect them from enemies but also helps them raid ant nests and termite mounds.
The common meeting and have very large nests which echidnas at take mainly between August and October.  When there are many winged the virgin queens with plenty of fat. These queen ants store the fat ready to keep themselves going when they fly away to set up their own nests. When the echidna eat the queens the fat keeps them going instead that there is still some queen ants left to start new nests.
Echidnas raid a variety of other ants at other times and termite mounds as well.  When an echidna digs into a nest it smells out the Ants or termites and feels to them with sensitive snout.  It faster snout in an outcome broken nest, fitting out its tongue which is covered in a special sticky saliva.  When a number of ants or termites are stuck to the tongue the echidna pulls it in, dirt sticks to the tongue with the ants.  Echidnas often eat as much dirt as ants or termites.
  baby echidana - puggle
 The echidnas is have a small mouth and no teeth so they cannot chew, and they cannot yawn!
Having no teeth to chew does not mean the echidnas swallowed the ants whole they crashed in between the spiny base of the time and the roof of the mouth, and the grants of dirt help with the crushing.
The crushed ants and dirt are then swallowed down into the stomach. Echidnas and other ant eating mammals have a stomach with the skin like lining, quite different from the more delicate stunning lining of other mammals.
The long snout, long tongue and sticky saliva, small mouth and no teeth, and skin like lining to the stomach, all make echidnas very specialised for eating ants. 

 A Baby echidna is called a "Puggle" dependant on it's mother for milk and burrow for protection until it is weaned and spines grow.

 Reproduction of echidnas need special care because of the spines the echidnas is need to mate belly to belly to avoid being spiked.  In the echidna the egg grows first in size, fed by nutritional fluid while passing through the uterus.  It has the yolk and layer of all albumen (like the white of a hens egg, but the egg over all does not look like a hens egg).  When at last it is ready to be laid it has the leather recovering but it is no longer the distinct area the yolk, for the young embryo has begun to grow and is already use much of the yolk.  In this way echidnas are quite different from big egg-laying birds and reptiles, whose eggs don't begin to develop until after they had been laid.
It takes about three weeks until the egg is ready to be laid.  Mating occurs during July and August that is in the middle months mid to late winter.  Three weeks later a shallow pouch forms in the skin at the females belly, and she lays the egg.  Like Marsupials (the mammals with a pouch), the echidna has a pouch, although it is there only during breeding.
The female lays the egg directly into her pouch, and that hairs hold the egg in place.  It is kept warm their, and the embryo continues to grow using the food and fluid in the egg.
About 10 days later the young echidna breaks through the leathery in egg shell, using the egg teeth on its snout, and hatches.  Apart from having an egg tooth it is surprisingly like newborn marsupials, as it has a large head, cover eyes, well-developed front legs, and tiny back leggs.
It is already in the pouch, and it stays there are holding onto the hairs with its front legs, for there is no teat for it to hold onto like other marsupials. The young echidna sucks up the milk from the skin and the hairs, for there is no raised teats. The mother secretes milk from pores in the skin of the belly.
The young stays in the pouch growing steadily for up to two months until the spines the begin to grow, the mother digs are burrow for it shelter in. The mother's pouch starts to disappear now because it is no longer used.
The mother visits the young in the burrow to save its milk who visits are often several days apart and young drinks alot of the milk each time. The echidnas get used to having large meals when they cannot eat all the time.  Echidna milk is richer than human or cows milk it has less water and more fat.  Among the echidna rapidly releases plenty of milk so the young can drink quickly.
That first the young echidna cannot walk well enough to get itself out of the burrow until its coordination improves, it starts to crawl around by five months old & then is able to walk right out and becoming independent of its mother. Normally leaving by seven months old.
A baby echidna is called a puggle.
 


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