facts & figures
did you know?
- The spines covering an echidna are actually tough, hollow, modified hairs. They are made from keratin, the same substance our hair and fingernails are made from.
- When startled or attacked, echidnas will quickly dig into the ground and curl themselves tightly, leaving only their sharp spines exposed.
Short-beaked Echidnas belong to a unique group of mammals called Monotremes. Apart from echidnas, the only other animal in the world that belongs to this group is the Platypus. They are egg-laying mammals with a pouch for the young to develop in after hatching.
Short-beaked Echidnas are roughly 40cm in length with a long, narrow snout (called a beak) and an even longer tongue which they flick into termite mounds and ant nests. They are covered in sharp quills that are dark brown to light brown in colour, and when threatened, they curl into a tight ball and wedge themself into the ground, exposing their quills. Short-beaked Echidnas have short, powerful legs built for quick digging, and the claws on their hind feet curve backwards to push dirt away as they dig. Males can weigh up to approximately 6kgs; females approximately 4.5kgs. Their lifespan in the wild is 10-16 years old.
Short-beaked Echidnas can be found in almost any terrestrial environment in Australia, from wet coastal areas to deserts. It is also found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Short-beaked Echidnas feed on small invertebrates such as ants, termites and larvae. They do not have any teeth, instead using their quick, long tongue to probe inside mounds and nests, sticking the invertebrates to their tongue with a sticky mucous substance, and then squashing them on the roof of their mouth before swallowing. When feeding, they also swallow a lot of mound and nest material including soil.
Short-beaked Echidnas are generally solitary, coming together only for breeding season. They have a rarely-seen breeding behaviour, in which a female will walk for days, often weeks, with males forming a “train” behind her. When the female decides she is ready to breed, whichever male is at the front of the train will be the lucky one to mate with her. Approximately 3 weeks after breeding, the female will lay a soft, rubbery egg directly into her pouch. The egg will be incubated in the pouch for 10 days, at which time it will hatch and a baby (called a “puggle”) will emerge. Echidnas do not have teats, instead secreting milk directly from mammary glands through skin patches inside the pouch, which the puggle will lap at. Once the puggle starts developing quills, the mother will dig a burrow for it to live in, and wean the puggle at 7 months of age. The young echidna will be independent enough to leave the burrow by about 12 months of age.