Long-beaked echidnas belong to an ancient clade of egg-laying mammals that includes the platypus of Australia. All are slow moving large mammals that live on forest floors.
They are easily distinguished from short-beaked echidnas by their long snouts, which account for two-thirds of the length of the head. They are able to precisely locate earthworms possibly by using electroreception, and using their head and claws will probe the soil – leaving behind pits of up to 40cm deep!
Their evolutionary ancestors were actually more similar to platypuses, until the two diverged around 46 million years ago leading the echidna lineage away from a water dwelling life, and back to a terrestrial one.
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, leading to highly fragmented populations. 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.
- Order: Monotremata
- Family: Tachyglossidae
- Population: 10,000
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 60-100 cm
- Weight: 5-10kg
Eastern long-beaked echidnas’ are endemic to New Guinea. Today they have a very patchy distribution, in three distinct populations. One in 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.
Habitat and Ecology
They inhabit tropical hill forests to sub-alpine forests, upland grasslands and scrub, in both primary and secondary habitats. They are largely nocturnal, spending the day resting in dens underground or in hollow logs. They forage amongst the forest litter for food, feeding almost exclusively on earthworms, though occasionally eating termites, ants, or occasionally rip open logs to locate insect larvae.