From Academic Kids


Short-beaked Echidna
Scientific classification

Genus Tachyglossus
   T. aculeatus
Genus Zaglossus
   Z. attenboroughi
   Z. bruijnii
   Z. hacketti (extinct)
   Z. robustus (extinct)

Echidnas, also known in their native Australia by their common name of "spiny anteaters", are the only surviving monotremes apart from the Platypus. The three surviving species belong to the Tachyglossidae family.



Echidnas resemble small porcupines, as all are covered with coarse hair and spines. They are approximatlely 30 centimetres (one foot) in length when fully grown. Their snouts are elongated and slender. They have very short, strong limbs with large claws and are powerful diggers. Echidnas have no teeth, a tiny mouth, and a toothless jaw. They feed by tearing open soft logs, anthills and the like, and using their long, sticky tongue to sweep up termites, ants and other small invertebrates, which are crushed between the tongue and the roof of their mouth. A baby echidna is called a puggle.

General behavior

Echidnas are oddly self-contained creatures. Outside of the mating season (midwinter in most areas, mainly July and August) they are solitary, occupying overlapping home ranges with no particular fixed base. They wander, presumably in search of food, with a distinctive rolling gait, usually moving very slowly, particularly if the terrain is rocky or tussocked. Despite being such a rotund and clumsy creature, they swim surprisingly well.

Their sight is acute; they are quick to detect movement and shapes near them, and if disturbed \to take protective measures: wedging themselves into any convenient hollow log or rock crevice; or disappearing into even moderately hard soil at a surprising pace, remaining horizontal all the while until only a few spines on the uppermost portion of the back are visible; or, if on very hard, flat ground, simply curling into a ball.

Few predators can overcome these defences. An experienced feral dog, fox, cat, or pig can attack the vulnerable belly of an adult caught on very hard ground (the tightly-curled ball of spines is not complete), and it is thought that goannas take the young.

The female lays a single soft-shelled egg twenty-two days after mating and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes ten days; the young 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.


Echidnas are classified into two genera. The Zaglossus genus includes two surviving species, and two extinct species known only from fossils; while only one species of the Tachyglossus genus is known.

Zaglossus genus

The two living Zaglossus species are endemic to New Guinea. Both are rare, and hunted for food. They forage in leaf litter on the forest floor, eating worms and other insects.

The two extinct species are:

Tachyglossus genus

The Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is found in south east 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. Its hair is longer: Tasmanian varieties have hair so long the spines can be hidden.

It is a fairly long-lived and highly adaptable animal. In the mountains it hibernates during winter; in the arid zones it shelters in caves or rock crevices during the heat of the day and becomes active only at night; in temperate regions it is largely crepuscular, though in colder weather it will remain active all day.


The Short-beaked Echidna is sparsely distributed and nowhere common. While it has a vast range, it is impacted by introduced species and habitat loss and is now considered a vulnerable species. The Long-beaked Echidna, on the World Endangered Species List, has a grim future in overpopulated, protein-starved New Guinea.

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