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Kristal Thomson
Echidna Trailing at Taronga

Taronga Keepers are hoping for a rare breeding success after echidnas were spotted partaking in a bizarre breeding ritual known as “trailing”.

Echidnas may be an Australian icon, but a great deal of mystery still surrounds this spiny species when it comes to their unique mating ritual that takes place during breeding season.

When it’s time, the female echidna will release a pheromone that attracts all the males in the area, but it is unknown exactly why groups of male echidnas suddenly start trailing behind the female bumper-to-bumper style, all in a line.

Echidnas can trail for up to 10 hours a day potentially over several days.

Echidna keeper, Brett Finlayson, said: “It’s a mystery why echidna females find their mate by taking them on an arduous journey through the bush. They’re a bit of an enigma.

“One theory is that the males trail the female until she eventually grows tired and stops walking. She will then accept the first male in line as a mate.

“Another thought is that the female recognises the compatibility of the male through smell.

It’s possible that she is waiting for the right male to be directly behind her.

“It’s not necessarily the strongest but the smartest who wins the opportunity to breed,” said Brett.

In the wild, female echidnas can have up to 10 male echidnas following behind them.

Taronga currently has four females and five males involved in a breeding program. Keepers have high hopes that this will be a successful breeding year as last month up to four males were seen trailing behind one of the females.

There hasn’t been a puggle, as baby echidnas are known, born at Taronga since 1987.

“It is notoriously hard to breed echidna offspring in human care, with only approximately 25 echidnas ever bred, and nearly all of those were in the last 10 years,” said Brett.

Echidnas are not endangered in the wild, however loss of habitat has contributed to reduce the distribution of echidnas in Australia. It’s important that keepers continue to try to breed echidnas in the event that numbers in the wild become critically low. 

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