Posted on 26th March 2019 by Media Relations
Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is celebrating a breeding milestone with the emergence of an Echidna puggle from the burrow.
The puggle is approximately 230 days old, which is the usual time that young puggles emerge, become less dependent on their mothers and start trying solid foods. Prior to emerging, the puggle has remained hidden underground in a burrow.
The Echidna puggle has been named Dhulu (pronounced da-hoo-loo) which is a jag-spear (spear with little spikes on the end) in Wiradjuri language.
“Determining the sex of the puggle is challenging,” said Keeper Denyell Woodhouse. A female will only develop a pouch at breeding times, and whilst males have spurs on their back legs, puggles all have these in a small form at this stage of their development.”
Echidnas are very difficult to breed with only a few zoological institutions having achieved this.
“Echidnas don’t breed until they are four years old of age. “Whilst we are still learning and working out the key signs to look out for to know when it’s breeding time, we are all extremely pleased with this result.”
“What makes it challenging is that Echidnas spend a lot of time in burrows, especially in the cooler months, but it is believed that good weight and appropriate burrow sites are key for breeding success.”
This is the first offspring for Echidna’s Bristle and Kiah, so it heralds a new genetic line for the Zoo.
“All of the Keepers who work with the Echidnas are very excited by this result. We have taken a very new approach to breeding Echidnas here, which has really paid off. We hope to back up again next year and continue the breeding success.”
The puggle is starting to venture out of the burrow more consistently now and can often be spotted alongside mum around the middle of the day at feeding time.
“It has all its quills but is significantly smaller than its mother. Echidnas are not fully grown until they are approximately four years old or around four kilograms,” said Denyell.
Echidnas are monotremes so they don’t actually have a gestation period. When they are born, they are actually laid as an egg. The egg is laid directly into mum’s pouch which is folds of skin that form during breeding season. Once the puggle hatches the mother doesn’t have nipples like all other mammals but instead secretes milk from patches on its stomach, which the puggle laps up using its tongue.