The echidna, or spiky anteater
, is covered in long sharp spine
s with coarse fur
inbetween to keep the animal warm
. The colour and length of these spines tend to vary depending on the climate
in which the echidna lives. They can grow to about 25-45 centimetre
s long and weigh between 2-7 kilogram
s. The echidna has a lifespan
of 50 years, compared to the African Porcupine
's 17 years.
Echidnas can be found in mainland Australia, Tasmania and Papua New Guinea and are not too fussy about where they live. They will be happy anywhere with a decent ant or termite population. This monotreme will seek shelter under hollow logs, debris, rocks or in small caves or burrows. Echidnas dont have a fixed home, with the exception of a female looking after her young, and can be found in a range of habitats including forests and deserts.
One of the most interesting things about the echidna is its methods of protecting itself against predators. It can curl into a ball, exposing its harmful spines, with its soft underbelly tucked away. Alternatively, its sharp claws allow it to burrow down into the ground quickly and then claw into the earth so as to prevent the animal being pulled out of the ground. When using this method the echidna will expose the spines along its back for extra protection. Even though the animal is rather slow moving, it can run away from its predator with its stubby legs and seek shelter.
As this animal feasts on ants and termites, it has no teeth but a long tongue to compensate. The long snout of an echidna will pick up electrical signals and aid with finding a suitable source of food. Once a nest of ants or termites is found, the echidna will tear into it with its front feet and snout and finally catch its prey with the quick yet sticky tongue. Horny pads inside the mouth will crush the insects it eats.
During the mating season (which usually runs through July and August) the female will develop a pouch. Three weeks after mating, it will then dig a burrow and lay a single egg. That egg will usually take about 10 days to hatch. Once hatched, the young will attatch itself inside the mother's pouch, where it will feed on milk. After 8-12 weeks spines will start to develop on the young, which means its will need to leave its mother's pouch. From this point it will live in a burrow for 6 more months. Its mother will often return and feed it.
There are two types of echidna, the short beaked and long beaked. The long beaked lives in Papua New Guinea and feeds on larger insects and earthworms, rather than ants. In most other aspects the two species are very similar.
Traffic along rural roads result in the death of hundreds of echidnas each year. Goannas, foxes, dingoes and feral animals are an added danger as they all prey on the echidna. Along with these threats, bushfires and droughts too have a serious effect on the echidna population.