Echidnas, also known as spiny anteaters
, are four extant mammal species belonging to the
family of the monotremes. Together with the Platypus, they are the only surviving members
of that order. Although their diet consists largely of ants and termites, they are not actually related to the
anteater species. They live in New Guinea and Australia. The echidnas are named after a monster in ancient Greek
Echidnas are small mammals that are covered with coarse hair and spines. Superficially they resemble the
anteaters of South America, and other spiny mammals like hedgehogs and porcupines. They have snouts which have
the functions of both the mouth and nose. Their snouts are elongated and slender. They have very short, strong
limbs with large claws and are powerful diggers. Echidnas have a tiny mouth and a toothless jaw. They feed by
tearing open soft logs, anthills and the like, and use their long, sticky tongue which protrudes from their snout
to collect their prey. The Short-beaked Echidna's diet consists largely of ants and termites, while the Zaglossus
species typically eat worms and insect larvae.
The long-beaked echidnas have tiny spines on their tongues that help capture their meals.
Echidnas and the Platypus are the only egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes. The female lays a single
soft-shelled, leathery egg twenty-two days after mating and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes
ten days; the young echidna, called a puggle, then sucks milk from the pores of the two milk patches (monotremes
have no nipples) and remains in the pouch for forty-five to fifty-five days, at which time it starts to develop
spines. The mother digs a nursery burrow and deposits the puggle, returning every five days to suckle it until it
is weaned at seven months.
Male echidnas have a four-headed penis, but only two of the heads are used during mating. The other two heads
"shut down" and do not grow in size. The heads used are swapped each time the mammal copulates.
Some Echidna Species:
Western Long-beaked Echidna
The Western Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bruijni
) is one of the four extant echidnas and one of three
species of Zaglossus that occur in New Guinea. Fossils of this species also occur in Australia. As Tachyglossus
bruijni, this is the type species of Zaglossus.
The Western Long-beaked Echidna is present in New Guinea, in regions of elevation above 1300 m and up to 4000 m,
it is absent from the southern lowlands and north coast. Its preferred habitats are alpine meadow and humid
montane forests. Unlike the Short-beaked Echidna which eats ants and termites the Long-beaked species eats
earthworms. The Long-beaked Echidna is also larger that the Short-beaked species, it reached up to 16.5 kg (36
lb), the snout is longer and turns downward, and the spines are almost indistinguishable from the long fur. It is
distinguished from the other Zaglossus
species by the number of claws on the fore and hind feet, it has
three (rarely four) claws.
The Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus
) is found in southeast New Guinea and also occurs in
almost all Australian environments, from the snow-clad Australian Alps to the deep deserts of the Outback,
essentially anywhere that ants and termites are available. Its size is smaller than the Zaglossus species, and it
has longer hair.
Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna
Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi
), also known as the Attenborough's Long-beaked
Echidna or Cyclops Long-beaked Echidna, is one of three species from the genus Zaglossus
to occur in New
Guinea. It is named in honour of Sir David Attenborough. It lives in the Cyclops mountains in Papua province of
Indonesia near the cities of Sentani and Jayapura.
It is the smallest member of the genus, being closer in size to the Short-beaked Echidna than other members of
the genus. It has five claws on its fore and hind feet. It has dense short fur.
The species was described from a single damaged specimen collected in the Dutch colonial era (c. 1961), and has
apparently not been collected since that time. Given the ongoing anthropogenic disturbance of the Cyclops
Mountain forest habitat, this has raised concern that Z. attenboroughi
populations may already be
endangered or even locally extirpated. However, it is important to note that biological surveys of Papua province
are notoriously incomplete and it is possible that the animal still exists there or in related mountain
It was reported on July 15 2007 that researchers from EDGE visiting Papua's Cyclops Mountains have recently
discovered burrows and tracks thought to be those of Zaglossus attenboroughi
. Furthermore, communication
with local people revealed that the species had perhaps been seen as recently as 2005.
Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna was identified as one of the top-10 "focal species" in 2007 by the Evolutionarily
Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project.
Eastern Long-beaked Echidna
The Eastern Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bartoni
), also known as Barton's Long-beaked Echidna, is one of
three species from the genus Zaglossus
to occur in New Guinea. It is found mainly in Papua New Guinea at
elevations between 2000 and 3000 meters.
It can be distinguished from other members of the genus by the number of claws on the fore and hind feet, it has
five claws on its fore feet and four on its hind feet. Weight varies between 5-10 kg (11-22 lb); its body length
ranges from 60–100 cm (23.5-39 in), and has no tail. It has dense black fur. The species is the largest monotreme
and is slow moving. It rolls into a spiny ball for defense.
There are four recognised subspecies:
Z. bartoni bartoni
Z. bartoni clunius
Z. bartoni smeenki
Z. bartoni diamondi
The population of each subspecies is geographically isolated and they can be distinguished primarily by
differences in body size.