Echidna

(Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Video of Echidna

Here we are in the middle of winter, huddled around our heaters, snuggling together against the chill, whilst outdoors other critters are rustling through the undergrowth, also seeking someone to snuggle up to, but for different reasons. This time of the year is breeding time for Echidnas, as they breed in July and August. Females will be carrying either an egg or a very small echidna in her pouch, so please check if you should see an Echidna on the road hit by a car.

The soft-shelled egg is laid sometime between 10 and 36 days after mating. The female lays her egg by lying on her back, rolling it down her stomach and enveloping straight into her “pouch”. Echidnas do not actually have a permanent pouch; instead they have contracting muscles in their abdomens, which forms a pouch-like fold. As both male and female echidnas can form a pouch in this way, it makes the sexes indistinguishable.
After 10 days the young echidna, which is called a Puggle, taps on the inside of the egg with a tooth to break the soft shell, this is the only tooth the echidna has, and it drops off 1-2 days after hatching. The puggle stays in the pouch for a further 2 months until it starts to develop its spines, at which time mum will now leave it under a pile of mulch, hollow log, burrow or any suitable sheltered space. She will return every 2-10 days to feed the young through a series of mammary pores on her stomach. Milk is secreted through these pores, and as with Kangaroos and Possums the milk changes according to the growth stage of the young. How clever is that? The young Echidna is as far as we know independent at 7 months old.

 

It is unfortunate but the reality is that we do not know a whole lot about the Echidna, it is thought from previous studies that they do not breed till at least 12-15 years old, and we do not know the average life span of Echidnas, they have survived for over 50 years in captivity. What we do know is that their brain capacity is large, thus intelligent and they have incredible memory capabilities.

Body temperature is lower than most mammals; they share this low body temperature with the Platypus being 33 degrees as they are the only other species of Monotremes. They are excellent swimmers having spines that are hollow thus helping with flotation, and in summer will cool themselves by swimming or going underground in hollows or burrows. The spines are actually tough hollow hair follicles, the echidna also has fur between the spines, and in Tasmania the fur can be so long that it covers the spines.

If you see a train of Echidnas, with as many as 2 - 10 walking in a line, the female will be the largest at the front, with the males following along behind, according to size. The female may lead the males around like this for up to 6 weeks and males may loose up to a quarter of their body size. The males are, of course, hoping to mate with the female.

 

Echidnas do not only eat ants and termites, they also eat small invertebrates, worms and beetles. Their tongues are up to 17 cm long and covered in sticky saliva allowing the ants or beetles to stick to it, the tongue is then drawn back into the mouth, where the food is masticated between a horned pad at the back of the tongue and the palate. Adult weight varies from 2-7 kg.

 

Echidnas did not have many predators before white man arrived in Australia, dingoes being about the only animal known to eat them on occasion, the goanna may also take puggles, but since our arrival predators now include dogs, and of course many succumb to our motor vehicles. It is a fairly slow moving animal, so when crossing the road it cannot readily get out of the way.

Many of us have had encounters with these animals in the garden, where they may dig them selves in to the ground, if this happens it is due to the animal being frightened, leave it alone, remove the threat (usually the family dog) and the echidna will go on its way once it feels secure.

We can not relocate an echidna, they are solitary animals and have a territory, and if removed from this territory they will make every effort to return, crossing unfamiliar territory, also as we do not know if it is a male or female it could have a puggle waiting in a hollow for the next feed.


Image by Alicia Carter

 
 
 
 

©Wildlife Mountain 2000 - 2017

 

We would also like to acknowledge the amazing support and help we have had from the Lismore Vet Clinic who have been an invaluable support to both us and the native wildlife of this region.


All native birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are proteced under the Wildlife Act 1975, they may not be captured or harmed in any way without an authority issued under the Wildlife Act.