Spines of a short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Echidnas join platypuses as the only extant monotremes, an incredibly unique group of mammals. Among their crazy assemblage of sauropsid and mammalian traits, monotromes lay eggs, secrete milk through skin pores, have a single duct (cloaca) for excretory and reproductive functions, and are hairy and lack teeth. In fact, when a platypus specimen was sent to England in 1799, naturalists first thought the creature was a hoax.
The short-beaked echidna is Australia’s most widely distributed mammal. It is well equipped for its fossorial habits, having stubby legs, powerful claws, and a shovel-shaped snout with sensitive electroreceptors and tactile receptors to survey surroundings. With a long, sticky, and maneuverable tongue, echidnas are able to snatch up hundreds of ants and termites, much like a tamandua. When threatened echidnas retreat into burrows or temporary shelters, concealing the face and puffing up the body into a tough spiny ball. This echidna was firmly wedged between rocks so we didn’t disturb it, but hopefully I’ll eventually encounter one on the move.
Photographed after pursuit