Echidnas—also known as spiny anteaters—are fascinating and unusual creatures that live in Australia and the island of New Guinea. While they are mammals, they reproduce by laying eggs and have a marsupial-like pouch. They belong to the monotreme order, and the only other monotreme is the platypus—another unusual animal. There are four living species of echidna: the Western long-beaked echidna, Sir David’s long-beaked echidna, Eastern long-beaked echidna, and the short-beaked echidna. Of these, the short-beaked echidna is the most common, and its habitat covers most of Australia. Despite its name, the echidna does not have a beak at all—instead its nose and mouth are long and shaped similar to that of an anteater. This allows the echidna to easily prey on termites and small insects, which are its main source of food. Echidnas are covered in hollow, pointy quills that act as a defence mechanism against predators. Male echidnas also have spurs on their hind legs. These spurs have been thought to be venomous, but they are likely only a remnant of an older defence mechanism that has been left behind in the process of the echidna’s strange evolution. During the winter, echidnas go into a state of hibernation or deep torpor. This allows them to save energy during the cold months, and they emerge in the spring to mate. Echidnas are naturally solitary, and only meet during the mating season. Females lay just one egg each year, and after the egg hatches the baby will live in its mother’s pouch until it is strong enough to venture out into the burrow. Once the young echidna is six months old, it leaves the borrow and begins a solitary life. While the short-beaked echidna is plentiful and not at risk of dying out, all three long-beaked species are considered endangered. This is due to extensive deforestation and hunting in New Guinea. Isolated island habitats allowed the echidna to evolve its strange and unique characteristics, but as humans and other outside forces threaten the balance of these island ecosystems, the echidna could become threatened.
Keywords to learn
Monotreme: primitive mammals that lay eggs. The echidna and the platypus are the only living monotremes
Torpor: a state of decreased physical and mental activity
Hey Kids, my name is Ennio the Echidna and I am very happy to meet you. Learn more about me and my species @ http://www.kids.nationalgeographic.com
Mass:2.5kg – 10kg (5.5lbs -22lbs).
Length:33 cm – 76cm (14in – 30in).
Region found:Australia & Papa New Guinea.
Population Status:Least Concern.
Current population trend:Least Concern.
Sexual maturity:4-5 years.
Echidnas are interesting animals that may seem similar to anteaters or hedgehogs but are in fact a unique example of evolution and adaptability. Their unusual characteristics make them especially fun to study.
Now that you know more about the Echidna by learning the key data above, be sure also to check out the fun facts. When you are finished learning the facts, try answering the questions in the Q&A corner on the bottom right side of the page.
Download questions about the Echidna here: Echidna (answers are on this page)
Echidna Fun Facts for Kids
- # 1. Echidnas were named after a creature from Greek mythology that was half-woman and half-snake.
- # 2. The echidna is depicted on Australia’s five-cent coin.
- # 3. Both male and female echidnas have a belly pouch.
- # 4. Sir David’s long-beaked echidna is named after the famous natural historian Sir David Attenborough.
- # 5. Echidnas do not have teeth and eat using their long tongues.
# 1. How many different species of echidna are there?
# 2. From where did the echidna get its name?
# 3. How many eggs does a female echidna lay each year?
# 4. What is the diet of an echidna like?
# 5. What order does the echidna belong to?