Family ECHIDA (Tachyglossidae) Echidnas are animals covered with needles, like porcupines, but reminiscent of anteaters in type of nutrition. The size of these animals usually does not exceed 40 cm. The body is covered with needles, the length of which can reach 6 cm. The color of the needles varies from white to black. Under the needles, the body is covered with short brown hair. The echidna has a thin, pointed muzzle 5 cm long, ending in a narrow mouth. Around the ears, longer tufts of fur are usually developed. The tail is almost not expressed, there is only something like a protrusion at the back, covered with needles. Strong limbs of the echidna bear 5 spade-shaped claws each (in the New Guinean prochidina, only 3 claws are developed). The second claw on the hind legs is especially developed, it is bent and serves echidna to scratch the skin: many parasites settle between her needles, like our hedgehog and porcupine. The Tasmanian echidna with shorter and rarer needles does not need a highly developed carding claw, and it is much shorter. Currently, there are 2 genera of echidnas: the actual echidnas (genus Tachyglossus) living in Australia, and the New Guinean prochidines (genus Proechidna).
Echidna, covered with needles, like porcupines, reminiscent of anteaters in type of nutrition, belong to the first family of a single-pass order. The body length of these animals does not exceed 80 cm. The body is covered with needles, the length of which can reach 6-8 cm. The color of the needles varies from white to black. Under the needles, the body is covered with short brown hair. The echidna has a thin, pointed muzzle 5 cm long, ending in a narrow mouth. Around the neck, longer tufts of fur are usually developed. The tail is almost not expressed, there is only something like a protrusion at the back, covered with needles.
Strong limbs of the echidna bear 5 spade-shaped claws each (in the New Guinean prochidina, only 3 claws are developed). The second claw on the hind legs is especially developed, it is bent and serves echidna to scratch the skin: many parasites settle between her needles, like our hedgehog and porcupine. The Tasmanian echidna with shorter and rarer needles does not need a highly developed carding claw, and it is much shorter.
Currently, there are 2 genera of echidnas: echidna (genus Tachyglossus), living mainly in Australia, and prochidines (genus Zaglossus) from New Guinea. In the genus Tachyglossus, from two to four species were previously isolated, now they are combined into one species - the Australian echidna (T. aculea-tus). One subspecies of Australian echidna is endemic to New Guinea. Another subspecies - the Tasmanian echidna (T. a. Setosus) - is distinguished by its larger size and thick coat, from which sparse and short needles protrude. The difference in fur coat of these animals is probably related to the colder and wetter climate of Tasmania.
Australian echidna is found in the eastern half of Australia and on its western tip, in Tasmania, on Kangaroo Island (off the southern coast of Australia) and in the southern and eastern parts of New Guinea.
In 1792, the Nodder Show described the Australian echidna and named it Echidna aculeata. In the same year, the Tasmanian echidna was discovered, described by Zhoffra as Echidna setosa.
Echidna is a land animal. She lives in a dry bush (bushes), preferring rocky areas. Nor she does not dig. Her main defense is needles. Worried, the echidna curls into a ball like a hedgehog. With the help of claws, it can partially dig into the loose earth, burying the front of the body, it exposes the enemy only needles pointing back. During the day, hiding in the voids under the roots, stones or hollows, the echidna is resting. At night, she goes in search of insects. In cold weather, she remains in her den, falling into short hibernation, like our hedgehogs. Stocks of subcutaneous fat allow her, if necessary, to starve for a month or more.
The brain of the echidna is more developed than the platypus. She has a very delicate hearing, but poor eyesight: she sees only the closest objects. During his excursions, mainly overnight, this animal is guided mainly by the sense of smell.
Echidna feeds on ants, termites and other insects, and sometimes other small animals (earthworms, etc.). The vermiform tongue reaches a length of 25 cm, the cylindrical “beak” of the head can be half the length of the body. She ruins anthills, moves stones, even quite heavy, pushing them with her paws.
The strength of the echidna muscles is amazing for a small animal of this size. They talk about a zoologist who locked a viper for the night in his kitchen. The next morning he was very surprised to see that the echidna had moved all the furniture in the kitchen.
Having found an insect, the echidna throws out its thin, long and sticky tongue, to which prey sticks.
The echidna's teeth are absent at all stages of its development, but on the back of her tongue there are horn teeth, which rub against the combed palate and rub the captured insects. With the help of the tongue, the echidna swallows not only insects, but also the earth and pebbles, which, getting into the stomach, complete the grinding of food, like it happens in the stomach in birds.
The echidna hatches eggs and feeds the young with milk. A single egg is placed in a primitive bag, which is formed by the breeding season. How the egg gets into the bag is still unknown. Mr. Burrell proved that the echidna cannot do this with the help of paws, and put forward another hypothesis: the female has a flexible body so that she can curl the egg directly into the abdominal bag. One way or another, the egg “lays out” in this bag, where the cub hatches from it. To get out of the egg, the cub breaks the shell with a horn cone on its nose. Then he puts his head in the hair-covered pouch where the mammary glands open, and licks the milk secretions from the hairs of this pouch. The baby is in the bag for quite some time until the needles begin to develop. Then the mother leaves him in some shelter, but for a while she visits him and feeds him with milk.
The echidna tolerates bondage well if she has protection from the excess of the sun, from which she suffers greatly. She enjoys drinking milk, eating eggs and other wheat, which can fit in her narrow, elongated mouth pipe. Her favorite delicacy is raw eggs, in the shell of which a hole is punched where the echidna can stick its tongue out. Some echidna lived in captivity until the age of 27.
Aborigines who love to eat echidna fat often hunted for it, and in Queensland they even specially trained dingoes for hunting echidna.
Passages (genus Zaglossus) are found in the interior of New Guinea and on Salavati Island, at its extreme northwestern tip. They differ from the Australian echidna with a longer and curved muzzle (“beak”) and high three-fingered limbs, as well as small outer ears. In the Quaternary, two extinct species of echidnas are known, but this group is not known in older sediments. The origin of the viper is as mysterious as the origin of the platypus.
Echidaceae (lat. Tachyglossidae) - a family of single-pass order. The platypus is included in the same detachment along with the echidnas. The family contains three genera - real echidnas (Tachyglossus), prochidines (Zaglossus) and the extinct genus Megalibgwilia. The range of the family is Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, islands in the Bass Strait. / (Wikipedia)
Description of the Echidna
In the family of echidnas there are 3 genera, one of which (Megalibgwilia) is considered extinct. There is also the genus Zaglossus, where prochidins are found, as well as the genus Tachyglossus (Echidna), consisting of a single species - the Australian echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). The last was discovered by the world zoologist from Great Britain, George Shaw, who described this egg-laying mammal in 1792.
Echidna has modest parameters - with a weight of 2.5–5 kg, it grows to about 30–45 cm. Only the Tasmanian subspecies, whose representatives outgrow half a meter, are larger. A small head smoothly passes into the body, studded with rigid 5-6-centimeter needles consisting of keratin. The needles are hollow and painted yellow (often complemented by black at the tips). Spines are combined with coarse wool of brown or black color.
Animals have poor eyesight, but excellent sense of smell and hearing: ears pick up low-frequency vibrations in the soil emitted by ants and termites. Echidna is smarter than her close relative the platypus, as her brain is more developed and speckled with a large number of convolutions. The echidna has a very funny face with a duck beak (7.5 cm), round dark eyes and ears imperceptible under the wool. The full length of the tongue is 25 cm, and when capturing prey, it flies out by 18 cm.
Important! The short tail resembles a protrusion in shape. Under the tail there is a cesspool - a single hole through which the sexual excretions, urine and feces of the animal exit.
Shortened limbs end with powerful claws adapted for breaking termites and digging the ground. The claws on the hind legs are somewhat elongated: with their help, the animal cleans the coat, freeing it from parasites. The hind limbs of sexually mature males are equipped with a spur - not as noticeable as that of a platypus, and absolutely not poisonous.
Echidna does not like to flaunt her life, hiding it from strangers. It is known that animals are uncommunicative and absolutely not territorial: they live alone, and accidentally colliding, they simply diverge in different directions. The animals do not dig holes and arrange personal nests, but for the night / rest they arrange where they have to:
- in placers of stones
- under the roots
- in dense thickets
- in hollows of dumped trees,
- rock crevices
- burrows left by rabbits and wombats.
It is interesting! In summer hell, the echidna hides in shelters, as her body is not very adapted to heat due to the absence of sweat glands and extremely low body temperature (only 32 ° C). The vigor of the echidna comes closer to twilight, when coolness is felt around.
But the sluggish animal becomes not only in the heat, but also with the advent of cold days. Light frost and snow make you go into hibernation for 4 months. With a shortage of feed, echidna can starve for more than a month, spending its body fat.
Types of Echidna
If we talk about the Australian echidna, it should be called five of its subspecies, differing in areas of habitat:
- Tachyglossus aculeatus setosus - Tasmania and several islands of the Bass Strait,
- Tachyglossus aculeatus multiaculeatus - Kangaroo Island,
- Tachyglossus aculeatus aculeatus - New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria,
- Tachyglossus aculeatus acanthion - Western Australia and Northern Territory,
- Tachyglossus aculeatus lawesii - New Guinea and part of the forests of northeastern Queensland.
It is interesting! Australian echidna adorns several series of Australian postage stamps. In addition, the animal is depicted on a coin in denominations of 5 Australian cents.
Under natural conditions, this oviparous mammal lives no more than 13-17 years, which is regarded as a fairly high rate. Nevertheless, in captivity, the life of the echidna almost tripled - there were precedents when animals in zoos survived to 45 years.
Today, the range of the Echidna family covers the entire Australian continent, islands in the Bass Strait and New Guinea. Echidne is suitable for housing any area where there is a plentiful food supply, whether it be a rainforest or a bush (more rarely, a desert).
Echidna feels protected under the cover of plants and leaves, therefore, prefers places with dense vegetation. The animal can be found on agricultural land, in urban areas, and even in mountainous areas, where snow sometimes falls.
In search of food, the animal does not get tired of stirring up anthills and termite mounds, ripping off bark from collapsed trunks, exploring forest litter and turning stones over. The standard echidna menu includes:
The tiny hole at the tip of the beak opens just 5 mm, but the beak itself has a very important function - it picks up weak electric field signals coming from insects.
It is interesting! Only two mammals, the platypus and the echidna, have such an electro-location device equipped with mechano- and electroreceptors.
The echidna tongue is also remarkable, having a speed of up to 100 movements per minute and covered with a sticky substance to which ants and termites stick. Circular muscles (contracting, they change the shape of the tongue and direct it forward) and a pair of muscles located under the root of the tongue and lower jaw are responsible for abrupt ejection. Rapid blood flow makes the tongue tougher. The retraction is assigned to 2 longitudinal muscles.
The role of missing teeth is performed by keratin cloves, grinding the prey against the combed palate. The process continues in the stomach, where the food is rubbed with sand and pebbles, which the echidna swallows in advance.
Echidna swims well, but doesn’t run very briskly, and is saved from danger by a dull defense. If the soil is soft, the animal digs deeper, curling up into a ball and aiming at the enemy with ruffled thorns.
It is almost impossible to get the echidna out of the pit - resisting, it spreads the needles and rests on its paws. The counteraction is significantly weakened in open terrain and solid soil: experienced predators try to open the ball, aiming towards the ajar belly.
In the list of natural enemies of the echidna are:
People do not hunt echidna, because it has tasteless meat and fur that is completely useless for furriers.
Breeding and offspring
The breeding season (depending on the area) begins in spring, summer or early autumn. At this time, a tart musky aroma emanates from the animals, according to which males find females. The right to choose remains with the female. Within 4 weeks, she becomes the center of the male harem, consisting of 7-10 grooms, relentlessly following her, together resting and having dinner.
It is interesting! The female, ready for intercourse, lays on the ground, and the applicants circle around her and dig the earth. After a short time, an annular moat (18–25 cm deep) forms around the bride.
Males push like tatami wrestlers, trying to force competitors out of the earthen trench. The fight ends when the only winner remains inside. Mating takes place on its side and takes about an hour.
Bearing lasts 21–28 days. The future mother builds a hole, usually digging it under an old anthill / termite or under a pile of garden foliage near human housing.
Echidna lays a single egg (13-17 mm in diameter and weighing 1.5 g). After 10 days, a pugle (calf) hatching 15 mm in height and weighing 0.4–0.5 g is hatched from there. The eyes of the newborn are covered with skin, the hind limbs are almost not developed, but the forelimbs are equipped with fingers.
It is the fingers that help the puggle to migrate from the back of the mother's bag to the front, where he is looking for a milky field. Echidna milk is colored pink due to the high concentration of iron.
Newborns grow up quickly, in a couple of months increasing their weight to 0.4 kg, that is, 800-1000 times. After 50–55 days, covered with thorns, they begin to crawl out of the bag, but the mother does not leave her child without care until he turns six months old.
At this time, the cub sits in a shelter and eats food brought by the mother. Milk feeding lasts about 200 days, and already at 6–8 months, the grown echidna leaves the hole in an independent life. Fertility occurs in 2-3 years. Echidna breeds infrequently - once every 2 years, and according to some sources - once every 3–7 years.
Population and species status
Echidna abundance is hardly affected by land development and land clearing for agricultural crops. Motorways and the fragmentation of the range caused by the destruction of the habitual habitat are of great danger to the mind. Introduced animals and even the Spirometra erinaceieuropaei worm, also imported from Europe and carrying a deadly threat to the species, are reducing the population.
They try to breed animals in captivity, but so far these attempts have been successful in only five zoos, and even then none of the cubs have survived to adulthood. Currently, the Australian echidna is not considered endangered - it can often be found in the forests of Australia and Tasmania.