Short-beaked Echidna
(Tachyglossus aculeatus)
The name echidna orginates from the Greek goodess Ekhidna who was believed to be half reptile and half mammal, with the face of a woman but the body of a serpent. Enchidnas are monotremes. Monotremes differ from all other mammals and resemble reptiles in that they lay shell covered eggs that hatch outside the mother’s body. Monotremes are also unique in that they have only a single passage, the cloaca, for both excretion and reproduction. There are only five species of montremes in the world: four species of echidna and the duck-billed platypus. They are the most distinct order of all living mammals.
Urgent Conservation Actions
The IUCN has highlighted the need for monitoring of road kills along selected sections of tourist roads on Kangaroo Island.
Mainland Australia and many nearby islands, including Tasmania. Central and southern New Guinea.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Monotremata
Family: Tachyglossidae
Monotremes are the most distinct of all the orders of living mammals. Some authorities place them in a subclass with extinct lineages and separate from all other living mammals. Others have even considered monotremes to be reptiles. There are only five species of montremes in the world: four species of echidna and the duck-billed platypus. The short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is the only species in its genus. The other genus in the family, Zaglossus (the long-beaked echidnas), contains only three species. There are three known sub-species of the short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus multiaculetaus, T. aculeatus aculeatus and T. aculeatus setosus. The Tachyglossus aculeatus setosus is confined to Tasmania and is often considered to be a distinct species.
The head and body measure approximately 350-530mm
Males usually larger than females
Weight: Unknown.
Echidnas have a body of brown or black fur intermixed with hollow spines. The spines are usually yellow at the based and black towards the tip. The body is muscular and rounded. The tail is short, stumpy and hairless. The elongated snout contains a long sticky tongue. The echidna has poor eye sight but an acute sense of smell. The powerful feet and claws are adapted for digging. Female echidnas lay eggs encased in a shell that hatch outside the body. In this respect echidnas resemble reptiles. Other reptilian traits include certain bone structures as well as similarities in their digestive, excretory and reproductive systems. As with reptiles, the ducts of both the excretory and reproductive systems open into a single chamber called the cloaca. Echidnas are warm-blooded and produce milk for their young and, in these respects, they are typically mammalian. The Tasmanian sub-species is distinguishable by its shorter spines.
Short-beaked echidnas tend to be nocturnal (or night-active), emerging in the evening or at night to forage. At cooler temperatures they can be more diurnal (or day-active). The echidna primarily eats ants and termites that it collects with its long tongue coated in a sticky mucus. Echidnas are powerful diggers and shelter within hollow logs, burrows and holes under trees and rocks. Their spines can be erected and limbs withdrawn for protection similar to a hedgehog. Echidnas are generally solitary and display very little interactive behaviour. Studies in the snowy mountains in mainland Australia found the echidna hibernates in the cold season (April to July), when its body temperature may fall as low as 3.7°C. It wakes periodically for intervals of approximately 24 hours when activity can be resumed. It is also capable of torpor in times of food shortages outside the hibernating period. Sexual maturity is reached at between one and two years. On average, females produce one offspring every two years. The single egg is deposited directly from the cloaca into a temporary pouch. Here the egg is incubated, hatches and the young develops. Echidnas can live up to 20 years in the wild.
Short-beaked echidnas are found in a variety of habitats including forests, meadows, rocky areas and sandy plains of the Australian desert. Echidnas have even been found in high mountain areas with snow cover for parts of the year.
Tachyglossus aculeatus inhabits most of Australia and many nearby islands, including Tasmania and New Guinea. It is common and widespread. The Kangaroo Island sub-species (T. aculeatus multiaculetaus) is limited to Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. The sub species T. aculeatus setosus is confined to Tasmania.
Population Estimate
Not known.
Population Trend
While the overall population of short-beaked echidna is generally stable, the Kangaroo Island sub species (T. aculeatus multiaculetaus) is in decline.
The short-beaked echidna is classified as Least Concern on the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, the Kangaroo Island sub-species is considered to be Near Threatened due to increasing tourist activity within its restricted range.
The short-beaked echidna appears to have withstood most threats and has adapted well to European settlement. The echidna’s protective spines and defensive strategies protect this species from introduced predators that have had a detrimental effect upon other native species. It is not restricted to a single habitat and its food source is abundant and not vulnerable to competition. At present the Kangaroo Island echidna is still common and widespread on the island, however densities have probably fallen due to habitat clearance for agriculture. An increase in mortality is expected in this sub-species as a result of increased tourism and an associated increase in traffic and infrastructure construction.
Conservation Underway
Conservation Proposed
The IUCN has highlighted the need for monitoring of road kills along selected sections of tourist roads on Kangaroo Island.
Australasian Marsupial & Monotreme Specialist Group 1996. Tachyglossus aculeatus. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 13 November 2007.

Grigg, G. C., Auguee, M. L., and Beard, L. A. 1992. Thermal relations of free living echidnas during activity and in hibernation in a cold climate. In Auguee. 1992. Platypus and echdinas. Royal Zoological Society. New South Wales, Mosman.

Flannery, T. F. 1995. Mammals of New Guinea. Reed Books, Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia.

Maxwell, S., Burbidge, A.A. and Morris, K. (compilers) 1996. Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes. IUCN/SSC Australasian Marsupial and Monotreme Specialist Group.

Nowak, R.M. (ed.) 1999. Walkers Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

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