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Short Beaked Echidna

Appearance

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 coloured cream, browny-red or black to keep them warm. The echidna has brown coloured skin which is mostly on 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.

The echidna has a short tail.

The short beaked echidna is between 30 and 45cm (12 to 18in) in length. Echidnas weight between 2 and 5 kg (4.4 and 11lb).

Diet

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. They produce lots of saliva to ensure the insects they eat can not escape.

animals

Scientific Name

Tachyglossus aculeatus

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

2-5kg (4.4-11lbs)

Length

30-45cm (12-18in)

Lifespan

Wild 40 years

Captive 45 years

Record 49 years

Diet

Carnivorous

Range

Short beaked echidnas can be found throughout Australia and Southern New Guniea. In Australia they can be found across the whole of the continent including Tasmania.

Habitat

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).

echidna

Reproduction


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 in which him prevent being spiked while mating.


The echidna is a unique marsupial as it lays eggs. This means it is known as a monotreme. It is one of only 2 egg-laying marsupials in the world. 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 tiny puggle which is only 1.5cm (0.59in) in length is born.


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.

echidna

Behaviour

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.

Dingoes are the only natural predators of the echidna. Young may be eaten by goannas. Introduced predators including cats, dogs and foxes also prey upon the short beaked echidna. Fires and droughts can contribute to loss of life among echidna populations.

Humans also pose a threat through vehicle accidents or habitat clearing.

The echidna can dig as well as a human utilising 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. 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.

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

The echidnas taxonomic name, Tachyglossidae, translates to fast tongue

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Photo Credits

Copyright. The Animal Facts

References

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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