June 16, 2009

Egg-laying mammal studied in New Guinea

A Wildlife Conservation Society research intern working in Papua New Guinea has completed the first study of a rare egg-laying mammal.

The study of the long-beaked echidna in Papua New Guinea's Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area was conducted by Muse Opiang, now of the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research. It took several years to remotely track the porcupine-sized mammals and record their dens and other signs, WCS officials said.

The study chronicles the first solid data on the animal's nocturnal foraging behaviors, movement patterns and home-range sizes for the species that is found only in New Guinea and is a member of the monotremes, a primitive order of mammals that forced zoologists to change their very definitions of a mammal.

Unlike all other mammals, monotremes -- like the echidna and the better known platypus -- lay eggs.

All of the time and effort invested in the study has paid off with new insights into the natural history of this seldom seen and unusual mammal, said Opiang. These findings will help inform conservation strategies for the species, which is threatened by hunting and habitat loss.

The research was published in a recent of the Journal of Mammalogy.