Echidnas are wonderfully odd creatures. So odd, in fact, it’s almost as if Mother Nature pieced them together using successful features of a variety of other animals. Echidnas, which live in desert, scrubland, and mountains forests of Australia and New Guinea, are known as spiny anteaters, even though they aren’t related to anteaters. While those aren’t technically spines, they are hairs, they are sharp enough to offer echidnas some protection. If an echidnas can’t get away from an approaching predator, they will curl up in a tiny ball to protect their soft underbelly, like a hedgehog or armadillo would, or they will dig themselves into the ground with only their spines showing.
Were you to look at an echidna’s tiny face, you’d see small, beady eyes (that don’t help echidnas see all that well) and an elongated nose called a beak. But that beak isn’t hard like the beak of a bird, though it is strong enough to be used to get into termite mounds, logs, and dirt looking for insects to eat. Like anteaters, echidnas are toothless. They use their 7-inch-long, sticky tongues to slurp up insects and worms. Then they use hard pads on the roof of their mouth and back of the tongue to grind the tasty treats into a paste. Then…gulp!
The oddness of these animals gets even odder if you consider that, like platypuses, they are monotremes – egg-laying mammals. But let’s back up a minute. A group of echidnas is called a parade. But, during breeding season, several males will waddle after a female, sometimes for days. This is called a train. At last, when she’s ready, she’ll stop. The males then dig a rut around her, then wrestle each other for the right to mate with her. The last one in the ring is the victor and will use his 4-headed member to mate with her first. You read that correctly. Twenty-two days after mating, the female lays one leathery, soft egg which she then pushes into her pouch. Ten days after that, the spineless, jellybean-sized baby hatches. It’s called a puggle!!! It stays there, nursing, for 7-8 weeks until it gets too prickly and is evicted.
While echidnas are mammals all unto their own, they must be doing something right – they’ve been around, and relatively unchanged, for roughly 50 million years.