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Waddles: Female, hatched in Australia about 1975. She arrived at the Zoo on September 28, 1978 from the Adelaide Zoo in Australia.
Pokey: Male, hatched in Australia about 1975. He arrived at the Zoo on September 28, 1978 from the Adelaide Zoo in Australia.
Nocturnal wing of the Small Mammal House
Echidnas are often called "spiny anteaters" because the upper part of their body and tail are covered in long, sharp spines. They are monotremes, which are primitive, egg-laying mammals.
Echidnas walk with a distinctive rolling gait, even though the body is held well above the ground, partially due to the fact that their rear feet point backwards which helps with digging. There are two species of echidnas, the short-beaked and the long-beaked. The short-beaked echidna, which is the species we have here at the Zoo, is smaller and has shorter, sturdier legs than the long-beaked echidna.
The echidna's snout is naked. Their small mouth and nostrils are located at the tip which helps them search for food in the soil and leaf litter. The snout forms a bill-like structure that can pry under rocks and logs to find food. The mouth can only be opened enough to allow its tongue to pass through.
Echidnas have small eyes that are well developed but not as useful while foraging in ant mounds or when under ground. They rely more on their sense of smell and hearing. An echidna's hearing is so good it can hear a person approaching and take cover long before being seen.
It's very difficult to tell the difference between males and females. Some males have a horny, hollow spur on the ankle of the hind limb, but some females also have spurs. These spurs are similar to those of the platypus - another monotreme - although the ones on male platypus are venomous.
Long-beaked echidnas occupy humid forests and meadows while the short-beaked echidna can be found in almost all types of habitats from semi-arid deserts to snow-covered alpine mountains. Echidnas aren't territorial and may have overlapping home ranges which can vary in size depending on the amount of food available.
Short-beaked echidnas can live into their forties. The oldest echidna in captivity lived to at least 50 years old.
Finding a mate when you're scattered widely across your range can be difficult. Olfactory (relating to, or contributing to the sense of smell) sense is important in finding a mate for echidnas - females leave a scent trail that attracts the males.
The two species of echidnas, along with the duck billed platypus, are the world's only egg-laying mammals. Similar to marsupials, the young are very underdeveloped and helpless when they hatch, and they must stay in the mother's pouch in order to complete their development.
For most of the year, the female's pouch is barely visible. Folds of skin and muscle on each side of the abdomen enlarge to form an incomplete pocket with milk patches at the front end just before the breeding season.
The baby is carried by the mother for approximately 55 days, at which point its spines begin to grow and the mother sets it in a hollow or cave, where she returns every three to six days to feed it. When it is about seven to eight months old and weighs two to four pounds, it becomes fully independent and moves out to occupy its own home range.
Echidnas are difficult to study in the wild because they burrow in the ground, don't follow a set pattern of behavior and can be active at any time (day or night).
Echidnas are also great escape artists. In a matter of minutes, their powerful feet can dig a hole straight down in the dirt, showing only their spines for protection. Several years ago, our keepers installed hidden cameras in the echidna exhibit to get a better look at their daily lives.
The short-beaked echidna is an insectivorous mammal, eating ants, termites, and soft bodied grubs. In arid habitats, echidnas tend to feed more on termites than ants because they contain more water
The short-beaked echidna is found in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. The long-beaked echidna can only be found in the mountains of New Guinea.
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