25+ Interesting Facts About Echidnas

  1. Echidna is one of the only two members of monotremes (egg-laying mammals). The other animal in this mammalian order is the platypus.
  2. There are two genera and four species of echidnas. Long-beaked echidnas have three species, while there is a single species in short-beaked echidnas.
  3. Long-beaked echidnas are limited to New Guinea. Short-beaked echidnas are widely spread, having a presence on the islands of New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania.
  4. There are several visible differences between long-beaked and short-beaked echidnas, together with the size of their beak. Long-beaked echidnas are bigger but have shorter spines and tongues than short-beaked echidnas.
  5. Ants and termites are the primary food of echidnas, due to which they are also called “spiny anteaters.” They also eat other small invertebrates in the soil, such as beetles, earthworms, and moths.
  6. Echidnas use their strong sense of smell and the electroreception feature on the beak to locate their prey. These monotremes use their long and sticky tongues to catch food quickly. The scientific name of echidnas (Tacgyglossidae) means “fast tongue.” Due to the absence of teeth, they use their beak to break their prey into smaller pieces.
  7. Echidnas are one of only a few terrestrial animals with electroreception (finding prey by detecting their electric pulses) ability. However, their snout has fewer than 2,000 electroreceptors compared to 40,000 electroreceptors in a platypus’s bill.
  8. Scientists previously assumed echidnas to be the only mammals that do not experience dreams due to the absence of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. However, later studies have proved that these monotremes experience REM sleep at a suitable temperature (25 C). This sleep can disappear at higher or lower temperatures (15 C or 28 C).
  9. Spines on echidnas are modified hairs without barbs. Like porcupines, they cannot throw their spines from the body. They can move their spines individually or in small groups due to the muscles on the base of each spine. 
    Spines of various sizes
    Echidnas cannot throw their spines like porcupines

  10. Baby echidnas, known as puggles, develop an egg tooth before birth. They use it to break their eggshell after birth and lose it soon after. Only egg-laying mammals (echidnas and platypuses) have an egg tooth.
  11. Female echidnas lay a single egg after nearly a month of mating and deposit it directly into their temporary pouch. The baby echidna (puggle) hatches after ten days of gestation. The puggle remains with its mother for several months and starts a solitary life after developing fur and spines.
  12. Like platypuses and unlike other mammals, female echidnas have patches on the skin instead of nipples to feed their babies.
  13. According to a study in 2009, echidnas and platypuses diverged between 19 and 48 million years ago. It refutes the previous view that monotremes are “living fossils” without evolution. (Source)
  14. Echidnas are possibly named after Ekhidna (viper), a Greek mythological monster of half woman and half serpent.
  15. Echidnas have medium to dark brown fur. However, spotting an albino echidna is also possible. These snow-white echidnas lose the color of their skin, hair, and eyes due to deficiency of the pigment melanin.
  16. Echidnas have a widespread habitat from deserts to snow-covered mountains. They use hollow logs, brush piles, and burrows (personal or those dug by other animals) for shelter.
  17. Echidnas generally live up to 16 years in the wild. However, their possible lifespan in captivity is 50 years or more.
  18. Male echidnas have a spur on their hind leg, similar to male platypuses. However, the spur is venomous in platypuses and non-venomous in echidnas. According to research, echidnas had venomous spurs in the past, but now their usage is for communication during breeding. (Source)
  19. Male echidnas have one of the strangest reproductive organs among mammals. Except for the mating season, they keep their four-headed penis inside their body. The major blood vessel of the penis splits into two, and each supplies blood to two heads. Therefore, four heads work as two penises, and they use only half of the penis during a single mating. Several of their sexual features are similar to those of platypuses, turtles, and crocodiles. Female echidnas have a single opening for urination, defecation, and mating. (Source)
  20. During the mating season, several male echidnas follow a single female in a line, known as the “echidna train.” The female usually chooses the biggest and most aggressive male for mating. A male echidna may become part of multiple trains and mate with various females during the weeks-long season. (Source)
  21. Echidnas hibernate for several months before mating season in mid-winter. Sometimes, male echidnas mate with hibernating females due to tough competition. (Source)
  22. Echidnas protect themselves from predators generally through their sharp spines. They can roll like a ball when in danger. They can also dig rapidly and hide in burrows when facing danger.
  23. Main predators of echidnas include feral cats, domestic dogs, goannas, and foxes. Snakes may also eat young echidnas before the development of spines.
  24. Echidnas are either crepuscular or nocturnal according to their climate. These monotremes forage during morning and evening in temperate climates, while they are active at night in arid regions.
  25. The limbs of echidnas are adapted to digging instead of rapid movement. Therefore, they have a waddling gate and small strides, with a maximum speed of 2.3 km/h. They spend most of their time digging to find food and eat around 40,000 ants and termites daily. They move 200 cubic meters of soil annually through this digging activity. It improves soil mixing and penetrates water, leaf litter, and other organic matter into the soil. (Source)
  26. According to the IUCN, two long-beaked echidna species (western long-beaked echidnas and Sir David’s long-beaked echidnas) are critically endangered, and one species (eastern long-beaked echidnas) is vulnerable due to habitat loss and hunting. The status of short-beaked echidnas is least-concern due to a healthy population.

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