Short-nosed echidna, Common echidna, Spiny anteater
Short-beaked echidnas are easy to recognize with their long protective spines on its back. Although not so conspicuous, there is fur between the spines, ranging from light-brown to black in color and noticeably denser in members of the species that live in colder habitats, enough to obscure the spines of the Tasmanian subspecies. These animals have a long, tubular, toothless and furless snout. They have a very small mouth which opens just enough for a sticky worm-like tongue to flick out of.
Short-beaked echidnas are found in Australia, including Tasmania, and Papua New Guinea. They occupy a range of habitats, from snowy alpine to semi-arid areas, including meadows, heathlands, forests, woodlands, and Australian desert. They normally shelter in rotten logs, stumps, tree roots, caves or burrows (previously abandoned or self dug), or under bushes.
Habits and lifestyle
Short-beaked echidnas are solitary except during mating time. In the warmer months, they tend to avoid the heat and be nocturnal. At higher elevations, in areas that are more temperate, and in winter, these animals are more diurnal, and will forage around dusk or in the daytime. To some extent they are able to control their temperature, but it is generally lower than other mammals. During cold weather they hibernate for ten days. All their body processes slow down during this time. They can climb and run but they walk with a waddle. Short-beaked echidnas are very powerful. They tear apart rotten logs with their claws, in search of termites, or they dig into ant nests. They nest at sites that are temporary, and their home ranges overlap. Their movements do not depend on territoriality but on food availability.
Diet and nutrition
The Short-beaked echidna eats ants, termites, worms and grubs.
Short-beaked echidnas are polygynous and in the breeding season a ‘train’ of a number of males may follow one female in the hope to mate with her. June through August is when mating usually occurs. Gestation is for about 23 days, then the female will lay one single soft-shelled egg for incubation in her pouch. After about 10 days the egg hatches and the baby echidna, a “puggle”, will be about 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) long. The puggle stays in its mother’s pouch until its spines develop, at about 3 months old. When puggles are old enough, their mother will go out to feed and leave them in a nursery burrow. Puggles continue to suckle from their mothers until weaning at around 7 months old. They become independent when they are 1 year old.
This species is not faced with any major threats over most of its range. Due to European settlement, however, and the accompanying threats of land clearance, predation and competition by introduced species and road mortality, Short-beaked echidnas are disappearing from parts of their range.
The global population size of Short-beaked echidna has not been quantified. According to the IUCN Red List, short-beaked echidna is widespread and common throughout most of its range with stable population trend. It is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Fun facts for kids
- Short-beaked echidnas are good swimmers. They paddle about with only their snout and a few spines visible. They are known to cross wide beaches and to swim in the sea and groom themselves there.
- If disturbed, these animals dig straight down very fast and cover themselves up with earth. They may also roll up into a ball or they may dig a hole so that only their spines can be seen.
- During very hot weather these echidnas will look for shade, as they do not sweat or pant.
- A Short-beaked echidna is on Australia’s 5 cent piece.
- Echidnas and platypuses are both “monotremes” or mammals that lay eggs.
- The spines of the Short-beaked echidna have tiny bundles of muscle connected to the bottom of each spine, enabling the echidna to control the spine's direction and movement.
- Female echidnas secrete milk via two aerola patches: small, hairy areas connected to their milk glands. Echidna babies suckle milk straight from its mother’s skin.
- The spines of short-beaked echidnas are made of keratin, the same substance that human hair and nails are made from.
- Echidnas are very strong animals, able to lift a load double its weight.
- Echidnas are very clever, almost as smart as a domestic cat.