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
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.
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
Image by Alicia Carter