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Short-Beaked Echidna Fact File

Tachyglossus aculeatus

Credit: Under License

Weight

2-5kg

(4.4-11lbs)

Length

30-45cm

(12-18in)

Lifespan

Wild 40 years

Captive 45 years

Diet

Insectivore

Ants, Termites

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

Australia's Strange and Spiky Anteater!

The short-beaked echidna is unique among mammals. Echidnas and platypus are the only two marsupials (pouched-mammals) which produce young by laying an egg.

They spend their day seeking out ants and termites on which to feed. Each day they can consume around 40,000 ants.

These animals are covered by yellow spines which are actually modified hairs. These provide protection against predation.

In some areas this species is threatened by hunting for food and collection for use in ceremonies.

Read on to learn more about these mystifying mammals.

Appearance

What does the Short-Beaked Echidna look like?

The short beaked echidna is sometimes referred to as a spiky anteater. They are most noticeable due to their yellow spines which are on their backs. These spikes are actually modified hairs which measure about 5cm (2in).

Beneath the spines the echidna has a smaller hairs colored cream, brownish-red or black to keep them warm. The echidna has brown colored skin which is most noticeable on their face.

In Tasmania the echidnas fur can be longer than the spikes.

The face features a Pinocchio like snout which protrudes out about 7.5cm (3 in). This snout is also occasionally known as a beak. Out of this beak comes the long tongue which is 18cm (7in) long.

On the back legs of the male are non-venomous spurs.

The echidna has a short tail.

The short beaked echidna is between 30 and 45cm (12 to 18in) in length. Echidnas weigh between 2 and 5 kg (4.4 and 11lb). Their is little difference between the males and female though males may be slightly larger.

Adaptations

How does the Short-Beaked Echidna survive in its habitat?


They produce lots of saliva to ensure the insects they eat can not escape their mouth before they swallow them.

Their coloration provides successful camouflage in grass or leaf litter.

These animals are able to survive underground as they can tolerate high levels of carbon dioxide and low levels of oxygen.

When swimming they are able to turn the snout up similar to a snorkel so they can continue breathing.

The spikes covering their body are an adaptation which are used to defend them against them predators.

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Diet

What does the Short-Beaked Echidna eat?

The echidna is a carnivore which lives on a diet of insects. Echidnas live on termites, grubs, larvae and worms.

They lack teeth and as such food is ground against a plate or spine in their mouth.

Learn more about the Short-Beaked Echidna in this video from Wild Planet Trust on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Short-Beaked Echidna?

Short beaked echidnas can be found throughout Australia and Southern New Guinea.

In Australia they can be found across the whole of the continent including Tasmania.

Habitat

Where can the Short-Beaked Echidna survive?

The short beaked echidna will live in many of the different habitats in these countries. Some of their preferred areas to live are deserts, scrubland or forests which have many logs filled with termites.

They create a home range though they will often tolerate other echidnas in this space. The size of this range is highly variable from as much as 9ha (22acres) up to 90ha (222acres).

These animals will use rotting tree stumps or hollow logs as a hiding place. They may also use rabbit warrens or wombat burrows as a hiding place.

Short-Beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Credit: Under License

Reproduction

How does the Short-Beaked Echidna produce its young?

The short beaked echidna will live a solitary lifestyle till July when they will come together so they can mate with the breeding season lasting till August. A train of up to 10 males will follow the female for up to 4 weeks until she decides to mate with one of them.

Prior to mating a male will dig a small trench which helps to prevent him being spiked while mating.


The echidna is a unique marsupial as it lays eggs. This means it is known as a monotreme. Echidnas are one of only two marsupials to lay an egg, the other being the platypus. The egg is deposited directly into the pouch of the echidna. It feels leathery on the outside.

After 10 days the egg will hatch and a baby known as puggle is born. At birth the young measure just 1.5cm (0.59in) long.


The puggle will grip onto special hairs in the mothers pouch using its see through claws. Monotremes lack the nipples that most mammals have. Instead they have 100-150 pores on a milk patch where milk is secreted. The puggle sucks these patches to ingest the milk. An echidnas milk is pink as it contains high quantities of haemoglobin.


The puggle spends its first 53 days of life inside the pouch. At the 53 days mark the first spines will begin to break through and the mother will deposit it into a burrow to which she returns at 7 to 10 days intervals to provide it with food. This continues until 7 months of age where they can venture out on their own.


Echidnas reach sexual maturity between 5 and 12 years of age.

Behavior

What does the Short-Beaked Echidna do during its day?

Echidnas have sensors in the end of the snout. These pick up electrical signals from insects. The snout can then be used to rip apart logs and plow up the floor to find insects.

The echidna can dig as well as a human utilizing a shovel. As such to avoid a predator they will dig a hole in the ground and only expose their spines making it difficult for a predator to attack them. When digging they will use all four feet.

Another defense mechanism is to curl up into a ball hiding their hands and face.

Short beaked echidnas are proficient swimmers and tree climbers.

Short beaked echidnas are active during the day. This is not possible during warm weather though as they cannot pant nor do they sweat. As such at these times they will burrow and emerge at night.

These animals are incredibly strong and may lift up to twice its own body weight.

Short-Beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Credit: Under License

Predators and Threats

What stops the Short-Beaked Echidna from surviving and thriving?

Dingoes and Tasmanian devils are the only natural predators of the echidna. Young may be eaten by goannas and snakes.

Introduced predators including cats, dogs, feral pigs and foxes also prey upon the short beaked echidna.

Fires and droughts can contribute to loss of life among echidna populations.

They may also be affected by vehicle strikes.

Aboriginal populations use the echidna as a food source and may use the spines to make jewellery.

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Quick facts

The echidna features on Australia’s 5 cent piece

Millie the echidna was a mascot for Sydney’s 2000 Olympic games.

Sonic the hedgehog character Knuckles is based on short beaked echidna

Both genders of echidna have a pouch so it is difficult to tell them apart externally

These animals may also be known as the spiny anteater.

The echidnas taxonomic name, Tachyglossidae, translates to fast tongue.

Short-beaked echidnas were first described for western science in 1792.

Five subspecies of the short-beaked echidna are recognized.

Short-Beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Credit: Under License

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK      

Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley

Hall, L., Chamberlin, R., Curtis, L., Parish, S. and Mason, M., 2016. Field guide to Australian mammals. Glebe: Pascal Press.

Pickrell, J., 2019. Wildlife of Australia. 1st ed. Sydney: Australian Geographic Holdings.

Aplin, K., Dickman, C., Salas, L. & Helgen, K. 2016. Tachyglossus aculeatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41312A21964662. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-2.RLTS.T41312A21964662.en. Downloaded on 23 May 2020.

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Credit: Under License

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