Echidnas, along with the Platypus, are monotremes, or egg-laying mammals. There are two species of echidna in the cabinet. What do these two species have in common and how are they different?
The display has a Short-beaked Echidna on the left, the skeleton of a Short-beaked Echidna in the middle, and an Eastern Long-beaked Echidna on the right. The Short-beaked Echidna is smaller and is Australia’s most widely distributed terrestrial mammal. The larger specimen is the Eastern Long-beaked Echidna, one of three species of echidna found only in New Guinea.
Spikes cover the bodies of these animals from the forehead to the tip of the tail, making an overall oval shape, about the size of a football. Each species of echidna has five digit feet with the digits of the back feet extending towards the tail.
The beak and feet of the Short-beaked Echidna are glossy black. Beyond the triangular shaped face are thick, coarse spikes in shades of brown and black lying flat along the back. The beak and feet of the Long-beaked Echidna are also glossy black. The rounded head is light brown and the finer with black spikes .
Echidnas have short, strong limbs and are great diggers. Their front feet have flattened claws that can shovel through leaf litter and their hind feet point backwards to push material away. The genus name Tachyglossus means ‘swift tongue’ which these echidnas use to feed on ants, termites, earthworms, beetles and moth larvae.
When threatened, Short-beaked Echidnas quickly dig into the ground, protecting all their soft parts and leaving only their sharp quills exposed. Long-beaked echidnas have a shorter tongue with backward pointing barbs that can hook earthworms. They also have shorter and fewer spikes than the Short-beaked Echidna.