Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus), or spiny ant eaters as they are sometimes known, are familiar to most Australians. Echidnas are monotremes (mammals that lay eggs). There are only three species of monotreme in the world -- the platypus and two species of echidna, one of which is restricted to the New Guinea highlands. They have many features which are reptilian in nature such as egg laying, legs that extend outward then downward, and a lower body temperature (about 31-32 0C) than other mammals.
The Echidna is common throughout most of temperate Australia and lowland New Guinea. In Tasmania, it is particularly common in dry open country on the east coast. It is also found on open heathlands and in forests and can sometimes be seen slowly wandering along roadsides in its characteristic rolling gait.
It is recognized by a covering of spines and a tubular snout which accommodates a long, mobile tongue used to lap up ants. It feeds mostly on ants, which is exposes from their nest with powerfully clawed forelimbs.
The spiny coat provides an excellent defence. When disturbed, the Echidna curls into a ball of radiating spines. If on soil, it may dig itself below the surface with surprising speed, while remaining horizontal.
Mating occurs in July and August and the single egg is incubated for about 10 days in a pouch on the mother's abdomen. The young is suckled for at least three months, first in the mother's pouch and later in a burrow where it is left while the mother is foraging. The juvenile follows the mother after weaning and does not attain adulthood until the age of about 12 months.
The echidna is adapted for very rapid digging, having short limbs and powerful claws. The claws on the hind feet are elongated and curve backwards; to enable cleaning and grooming between the spines. However, despite this, they are infested with what is said to be the world's largest flea -- Bradiopsylla echidnae -- which is about 4 mm long.
Surprisingly, echidnas are good swimmers, paddling about with only the snout and a few spines showing. They have been seen to cross wide beaches to swim and groom themselves in the sea.
like their relative the platypus , have a spur on each hindfoot.
However, unlike the platypus the spur is blunt and the
venom gland is not functional.
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