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Facts About the Egg-Laying Echidna

Sonia Nair
Echidnas are animals that are said to have evolved before millions of years. Here are some interesting facts about this animal, which is an egg-laying mammal.
Otherwise known as spiny anteaters, echidnas are related to platypus, as they share the same order - Monotremata. It is a common fact, that mammals are animals that give birth to young ones. However, monotremes are those mammals, that lay eggs.
The order Monotremata consists of egg-laying mammals, like platypus and echidna, along with some extinct animals. These animals are indigenous to New Guinea and Australia. Studies show that this order consisted of many species; but now, most of them are extinct. The only surviving monotremes are platypus and echidna.


Echidnas are mammals that belong to the family Tachyglossidae, which consists of three genera - Tachyglossus, Zaglossus, and Megalibgwilia. The genus Zaglossus  consists of three extant (living) species and two extinct species. 
The living species are the western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijni), Sir David's long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi) and the eastern long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni  with four subspecies). The extinct species are Zaglossus robustus  and Zaglossus hacketti.
The only member of the genus Tachyglossus  is the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus  with five subspecies). The third genus Megalibgwilia  consists of extinct species, called Megalibgwilia ramsayi  and Megalibgwilia robusta. In short, there are four living species of echidna.


Echidnas are animals that resemble porcupines and hedgehogs in looks. The body of an echidna is almost brownish-black, and is covered with spines and coarse hair. However, spines are not found on their face, limbs, and abdomen. They are short and stocky with strong limbs and claws, that are adapted for digging.
They have a long tubular snout, that is meant for sensing smell, and for catching prey. The long-beaked species have longer snouts, as compared to the short-beaked type.

Echidnas have long sticky tongues to catch prey, which include ants and termites. They may feed on worms and larvae too.
The long-beaked ones have tiny spines on their tongues. These animals tear open anthills and soft logs, and stick their tongue inside; to feed on ants and termites. Their size varies with the species, and their body weight may range between 2 to 17 kilograms.
The length of these animals can be anywhere between 30 to 100 centimeters. In general, short-beaked echidnas are smaller, as compared to others.

Interesting Facts about Echidnas

They are among some of the oldest surviving species on the Earth.
The average lifespan of an echidna or spiny anteater is between 40 to 50 years.
Echidnas are solitary animals that are often found single, except during the mating season.
Males have a bony spur on their hind foot. It is said that these animals can inject poison with this appendage. In fact, there is no poison gland in their body.
They use their claws to tear out ant hills and soft logs with termites. They also dig holes for burying themselves, when threatened. It has been noticed that sometimes they roll like balls, in case of any threat.
Echidnas have small mouths with no teeth. It is believed that these animals grind their food with the bony plates in their mouth.
Even though they are mammals, the most intriguing echidna fact is that they lay eggs inside the pouch attached to their abdomen.
A single leathery egg is laid by the female, and it hatches within 10 to 15 days.
The young one, called puggle, is retained in the pouch till it develops spines. The puggle feeds on the milk produced by the milk patches inside the pouch of the mother.
After two months, the puggle is left in a burrow, which is visited by the mother (for suckling), once in every five days. After seven months, the puggle is weaned.
Echidna is one of the mascots of Sydney Olympic Games 2000, as the character 'millie'.
The sad part about this animal is that, some of the species (like the western long-beaked type and Sir David's long-beaked echidna) are on the verge of extinction, and are classified as endangered species.