What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #23 Echidna

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#23 Echidna
(Tachyglossus aculeatus)

The Echidna, or as it is some times called the “Spiny Ant Eater”, is one of only two species of egg laying mammals of the monotreme order. (The other being the Platypus). These curious looking animals are one of my favorites and I get much enjoyment watching them at work feeding and walking though the bush, every now and then sticking their beak in the air to sense the world around them.

The Echidna is covered with a layer of coarse hair beneath the sharp spines that are designed to protect it from its predators. Its long beak, which is used both for its nose and small mouth, has a toothless jaw. Its beak has several thousand electrosensors, which are used to detect its food, which consists primarily of termites and ants that it digs out of logs, the ground and mounds and licks up with its long sticky tongue.

It has extremely powerful legs to aid in digging and can easily rip apart soft logs and termite mounds to get at its food. They also use these powerful legs to dig very quickly into the ground in event of danger. The legs will hold on making it hard to lift whilst the spines make it difficult to dig out.

Echidnas tend to be solitary animals and it is rare to see more than one foraging in together. However during the breeding season it is not uncommon to see a number of male echidnas following behind a female waiting for a mating opportunity.

The female Echidna gives lays a leathery egg, which is deposited in the pouch, were it will hatch around 2 weeks later. The puggle as it is called will suckle from pores on the mother’s chest (as monotremes don’t have nipples). The puggle will stay in the pouch for another 7 weeks during which time it will develop spines and it is then that it is left in a burrow were it will remain for several months whilst the mother weans it.

Echidnas are prone to being killed on the road due their slow waddling gate and tendency to curl up at the presence of danger.

© Habitat Ecology 2012


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