Echidnas’ distinctive and purposeful ‘rolling’ gait is just one if the endearing qualities that make these animals very popular attractions at Healesville Sanctuary.
Echidnas are classed as ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’). Although the species is not considered to be endangered, individual animals are at risk, particularly from dog attacks, natural disasters and motor vehicles. Echidnas are among the more than 2,000 sick and injured native animals treated each year at the Sanctuary’s Australian Wildlife Health Centre.
Also known as the ‘Spiny Ant-eater’ and ‘Short-beaked Echidna’, this species is found widely around Australia and in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Echidna species and the Platypus are the only animals in the Monotremata order: mammals that lay eggs.
In parts of Papua New Guinea, Echidnas are hunted for food. Locally, predators include dogs, eagles and Tasmanian Devils. Echidnas move slowly, which means they are at risk on our roads. You can help to reduce the road toll of these native animals by driving carefully and, if it is safe, driving around any Echidnas you find crossing the road. Do not pick them up – their spines are very sharp. Contact a local wildlife help group if you find an injured animal.
Echidnas are 30 to 40cm long and weight 2 to 5kg.
Their body is covered with spines about 5cm long. Echidnas have fur growing as well, between the spines.
Echidnas eat ants, termites, grubs and worms. They use their forepaws to dig into ant nests and use their fast-moving tongues, which are covered with sticky mucus, to trap the ants.
Echidnas can live in most habitat types including bush, savannah, arid and semi-arid areas and rainforest.
Females lay one egg, which stays in the mother’s pouch and hatches after 10 days. The young stays in the pouch and is sustained by its mother’s milk. The mothers usually push their young out of the pouch after two to three months because of their growing spines. They are weaned at about six months.