There are mainly 2 genera of this most unusual creature with spines protruding from its body and fur mixed in between: the short-beaked echidna and the long-beaked echidna. Of the three species of long-beaked echidnas, it is the Western long-beaked echidna, Eastern long-beaked echidna, and the Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna that have many worried about their survival in the near future.  These generally solitary critters are located in Australia, Kangaroo Island Tasmania, and New Guinea, but the rarer long-beaked echidnas are restricted to mainly the mountainous regions of New Guinea. But what really is an echidna?

Both the long- and short-beaked echidnas possess a distinguishable snout that bends downward a bit in the longer beak of the long-beaked echidna (how surprising). In fact, the beak makes up 2/3 of its head.

But why have the spines? For defense, of course! Like the armadillo, the echidna can curl up into a ball and even wedge itself into a crevice of between rocks in order to escape predation. All that can be seen of them is this little ball of spines, and who would really want to eat that? These spines are basically individual hairs that are rooted deep into the muscle panniculus carnosus. Because of their spines, you cannot make out their rather cute tail and tufts of ears. Also a unique feature of echidna spines is that you can use them to tell a male from a female since a male has a horny spur on the ankle of the hindlimbs.

Echidnas have remarkable hearing, though not-so-good sight. Like an ant-eater, they have a very viscous tongue that can be used to eat their favorite “munchings and crunchings”: ants and termites.

Echidna “Valentine’s Day” is quite a parade- a little pun intended. When the female is ready to mate, she everts her cloaca, exposing many glands that presumably release pheromones to attract males. And attract males this certainly does. As many as 6 males will then come from around the region to form a train as they wait to mate with her.

Also, these are mammals, which means that they are born from the womb of the mother. Would that then mean that she gets pricked and prodded from within if she were carrying a fetus? Thank goodness this doesn’t happen because the young are actually born in eggs! Yes, echidnas are technically monotremes! Usually a single egg is released into the mother’s pouch. About 10 days later, the hatchling uses an egg tooth and horney carbuncle at the tip of its snout to escape the egg. It then remains in the pouch until its spines start to form.

Weirdos but cool weirdos, right?

Stay Wild,

Gabby Wild