Echidnas are pretty strange animals!
Firstly, they belong to one of the most unique families of animals in the world, known as the Monotremes. This family consists of Short-beaked Echidnas, Platypus and the lesser known Long-beaked Echidnas. Scientists were so shocked when they discovered this group of animals that they had to redefine the definition of “mammal” in the dictionary! They are very strange when you think about it. They are a mammal, like us, but they lay eggs, like birds and some reptiles! In fact, the name echidna was derived from the word Ekhidna, a Greek goddess who was half woman and half reptile.
Not only are Short-beaked Echidnas unique because they are a monotremes, they also have some other interesting characteristics. They have a very long beak, they have a 20cm long tongue, they can swim really well, can climb trees (the tallest one recorded was two meters high!) and they can live up to 50 years old!
Backyard to Bush are very lucky to care for seven, very charismatic Short-beaked Echidnas. Some of these include “twinkle-toes” Brian who likes to walk on his tippy toes and Pugsley who was found after a dog owner threw a ball to her dog at the park and the dog came back holding an echidna!
For the last two months we have been preparing our echidnas for the current breeding season which started this month. In the wild, female echidnas will seek out protein rich foods, such as termites. This helps them build up enough fat reserves to help rear their young, which have possibly the cutest baby animal name, they’re known as puggles. We have been feeding our girls, Cino, Pitpa and Spike (appropriate name), more protein, such as maggots and pupae, which they definitely enjoy indulging in. As we’d expect they have started becoming a little round around the edges, the way a breeding girl should be. They have recently been introduced to the gang of boys and within the next couple of months we can expect a pretty cool event to occur. It’s called an “echidna train” and it consists of a number of males, beak to bottom, following a single female in a long line, like doing the conga.
Female echidnas do not have a pouch all the time like some other Australian animals such as Kangaroos or Koalas, just another cool fact about these amazing monotremes. Irrespective of conception, female echidnas will develop a pouch during the breeding season. If mating is successful, she will dig a burrow with a lovely nesting den. She will then lay her egg and carry it in her pouch, and even once the tiny puggle has hatched she will carry it with her until it gets too spiny and sharp. Another strange thing about this animal is that the young suckles milk from its mother, like all mammals, but the mother doesn’t have a teat. The puggle suckles from a “milk patch”, an area where iron rich, pink milk seeps out through the mother’s skin. Strange, right?!
Bec Noad, Backyard to Bush Keeper
Taronga Zoo, Media Relations
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