Eastern Long-beaked Echidna
(Zaglossus bartoni)
Long-beaked echidnas belong to an ancient clade of egg-laying mammals that includes the platypus of Australia. They are easily distinguished from short-beaked echidnas by their long snouts, which account for two-thirds of the length of the head. The eastern long-beaked echidna has the widest distribution of the three long-beaked echidna species. However, while relatively common in the recent fossil record, this species is in decline in areas accessible to humans. It has lost much of its forest habitat to logging, mining and farming and is regarded as a highly prized game animal by local people, who hunt it with specially trained dogs. It has already been driven to extinction in parts of its range. Urgent conservation action is now needed to ensure that remaining populations survive.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Surveys to identify the location of key populations so that they may be protected and conserved.
Endemic to the island of New Guinea (Papua, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea).
Media from ARKive
ARKive image - Eastern long-beaked echidna
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Monotremata
Family: Tachyglossidae
Long-beaked echidnas are monotremes, a group that also includes the short-beaked echidna and duck-billed platypus. Fossil evidence indicates that this group of mammals has changed very little during the last 100 million years. However, the fossils do not provide any evidence of the origins of the group and their ancestral relationships, nor to how they relate to marsupials and placental mammals. Fossil monotremes from the Pleistocene Epoch (which began 1.8 million years ago) are very similar to the living species.

Four species of echidna are currently recognised: Tachyglossus aculeatus (short-beaked echidna) and three long-beaked echidnas in the genus Zaglossus. These are Zaglossus bruijnii (western long-beaked echidna), Zaglossus attenboroughi (Attenborough's or Sir David’s long-beaked echidna) and Zaglossus bartoni (eastern long-beaked echidna). Z. bartoni is further divided into four subspecies: Z. b. bartoni, Z. b. diamondi, Z. b. clunius and Z. b. smeenki. The current taxonomy is in dispute, and it has been proposed that three of these subspecies may actually represent distinct species: Z. diamondi, Z. bartoni (including Z. b. bartoni and Z. b. clunius) and Z. smeenki.
Head and body length: 600-1000 mm
Weight: 5-10 kg
The most distinguishing feature of long-beaked echidnas is their long snouts, which curve downwards and account for two-thirds of the length of the head. They have no teeth; instead their tongues are covered in spikes (teeth-like projections), which are very effective in hooking prey and drawing it into the mouth. They have compact, muscular bodies, with strong limbs and claws for digging.

Z. bartoni possesses five claws on the forefeet, and at least four (usually five) on the hindfeet. Fur colour varies between individuals from dark brown or black through rich mahogany to reddish-yellow, with variable numbers of white spines visible on the back. There are no spines on the underside of the animal. The skin of the paws, tail and beak is blackish brown, as are the claws. Four subspecies have been proposed based on the large variation in size and colour, with Z. b. smeenki being the smallest and Z. b. diamondi representing the largest known living monotreme, weighing up to 16.5kg in captivity.
Like other echidna species, Z. bartoni is thought to be largely nocturnal, spending the day resting in dens underground or in hollow logs. During active periods, they forage amongst the forest litter for food. They feed almost exclusively on earthworms, although individuals may occasionally eat termites, ants or occasionally rip open logs to locate insect larvae. The skin on the snout of an echidna is a mosaic of electro-receptors that enable the animals to detect weak electrical fields, which they use for locating invertebrate prey in the dark. Similar electrosensory abilities are also present in the bill of the platypus. 

Long-beaked echidnas lead solitary lives, coming together only to breed. Home ranges vary greatly, with one having been recorded as 198 ha over a two month period. Breeding is thought to be seasonal, with the female laying 4-6 eggs into her pouch each July. Hatching occurs ten days later, and the young echidnas remain in the pouch for a further 6-7 weeks, or until the spines develop. All echidnas have the ability to erect their spines when they feel threatened. If the ground is soft, the animal will burrow into it to protect its belly. On hard ground it will curl up into a spiky ball like a hedgehog.

The species can be long-lived in captivity: there is record of one individual kept at London Zoo reaching 30 years of age.
The eastern long-beaked echidna occurs in tropical hill forests to sub-alpine forests, upland grasslands and scrub. It is found in both primary and secondary habitats. Historically it occurred from sea level to an elevation of at least 4,150 m. However, it is rarely found at sea level today.
Endemic to New Guinea. Although common in the recent fossil record, the eastern long-beaked echidna has a very patchy distribution today and is probably now extirpated from most of its range. The species occurs in three  distinct populations – one in the central Cordillera (Papua and Papua New Guinea), one in the Foja Mountains (Papua) and one in the Huon Peninsula (Papua New Guinea) – all of which are now very rare. In particular, it is thought that the subpopulations in the western part of the central mountains of Papua have largely gone extinct.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
Decreasing. The population is believed to have declined at a rate of at least 80% over the last 35-40 years. Numbers are still decreasing in areas where they interact with humans, often being hunted to local extinction.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A2acd) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Traditional hunting is the main reason for the species' decline. Long-beaked echidnas are highly prized game species and are hunted for food by local people with trained dogs. The other threats come from farming, logging and mining, which are causing a decline in the echidnas' forest habitat. Of particular concern is the proposed nickel mine at Wowo Gap, an area that supports a good population of this species. Competition with feral pigs may also be having a negative impact by disturbing habitat with their digs.
Conservation Underway
The eastern long-beaked echidna is listed on Appendix II of CITES.  Some individuals have been recorded within existing protected areas. The Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research (PNGIBR) has initiated a long-term long-beaked echidna conservation research programme in the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area (CMWMA) in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The programme aims to learn more about the ecology of long-beaked echidnas in the region through radio tracking, as well as raise awareness amongst local communities about the importance of conserving the long-beaked echidna and its habitat.
Conservation Proposed
Further field studies are required to identify important areas for this species. All known populations should be fully protected and education and awareness programmes initiated amongst relevant communities. Further research into the threats facing this species, and in particular, the impact of current hunting, should also be carried out.
Flannery T. F. and Groves C. P. 1998. A revision of the genus Zaglossus (Monotremata, Tachyglossidae), with description of new species and subspecies. Mammalia 62: 367-396.

Helgen, K. M. 2007. The mammal fauna of the Kaijende Highlands, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea: A Rapid Biodiversity Assessment of the Kaijende Highlands, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.

Leary, T., Seri, L., Flannery, T., Wright, D., Hamilton, S., Helgen, K., Singadan, R., Menzies, J., Allison, A., James, R., Aplin, K., Salas, L. & Dickman, C. 2008. Zaglossus bartoni. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 14 November 2010.

Nicol, S. 2003. Monotreme Biology. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A 136: 795–798.

Opiang, M. D. 2009. Home ranges, movement, and den use in long-beaked echidnas, Zaglossus bartoni, from Papua New Guinea. Journal of Mammalogy, 90(2):340–346.

Phillipsa, M. J., Bennetta, T. H. and Leeb, M. S. Y. 2009. Molecules, morphology, and ecology indicate a recent, amphibious ancestry for echidnas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 106(40):17089–17094.

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