Echidnas or spiny anteaters can grow to about 40cm long and weigh up to 7kg. It has a bare, tube-like snout and a long, sticky tongue. The feet are dark and have a set of powerful black claws. The second claw on each hind foot is the elongated and is used to scratch and groom between its spines. It is covered by short, black hairs amongst the hard, sharp spines. These spines may reach 50mm long on the back but are shorter on the sides. Along with the platypus, echidnas are monotremes, strange mammals that lay eggs and then suckle their young. The echidna is protected by law in Australia. There are no real predators but occasionally dingoes and large goannas may eat juveniles or young adults. Aborigines also used to collect them as food.
Echidnas are found all over Australia but is rarely seen because of its secretive habits. The echidna avoids extreme temperatures and shelters in burrows, caves or quickly makes a shallow excavation in the ground. If threatened, echidnas will lodge themselves under a rock or log only leaving the sharp spines visible. It moves around making snuffling noises while it hunts for food.
The echidna only eats ants and termites. Nests are located and then excavated using the powerful front claws. The ants or termites are then extracted using its long sticky tongue, which is pushed down the long tunnels of the insect’s nest. The food items stick to the tongue and then eaten as it is drawn back into the mouth.
During the breeding season, between July and September, the female will be followed around by as many as six males at a time. Eventually, she will mate with the most persistent of these and about two weeks after mating, a single soft-shelled egg is produced and is held in the female’s pouch for ten days until it hatches. The 12mm long infant then suckles milk from pores in the pouch until spines develop at about three months of age.