Echidna, Tachyglossidae

Tachyglossidae is a family that holds eight species of echidnas, also known as spiny anteaters, four of which are known only from fossils. The remaining four species, which include the platypus, can only be found in New Guinea and Australia. They prefer to reside in wooded areas and can be found under piles of vegetation, roots, and occasionally inside the burrows of other animals. This family is named after the “Mother of All Monsters” in Greek mythology, although the two do not resemble each other.

Echdinas are small in size, with males growing about twenty-five percent larger than females, and they resemble both anteaters and porcupines or hedgehogs. They are typically brown or black in color, although there have been reports of albino individuals with white spines and pink eyes. Their legs are short but their paws have powerful claws that are used for digging and the long snout holds a large number of electrosensors, depending upon the species. The snout of the platypus holds 40,000 electrosensors while the long-beaked echidna holds only 2,000. Because of their ability to resist stress and their slow metabolism, these animals are long lived for their small size, with one captive individual reportedly living to be fifty years of age.

The small mouths of echidna species hold no teeth, but the tongue holds small hairs that are able to prevent ants from escaping. Like anteaters, echidnas will tear apart anthills and logs with their claws, using their tongues to capture ants, termites, larvae, and worms. The species within this genus are the only known mammals to lay eggs. The breeding season occurs between late June and September, during which time males will form a train of up to ten echidnas, following the female in order from oldest to youngest. After breeding, the egg will develop inside the female for up to 14 days before it is moved to her pouch, where it will remain for ten more days before it hatches. The resulting baby echidna, or puggle, will remain in its mothers pouch for two or three months before it is ready to emerge, after which time it may spend up to a year sharing her den.

Echidnas are timid animals that will curl into a ball when threatened, using their spines to defend themselves. However, it is still threatened by predation from domestic dogs, wild cats, and snakes. Precautions can be taken to help protect echidnas simply by watching pets, picking up litter, and by reporting injured individuals.

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