Definitions

Echidna

Echidna

[ih-kid-nuh]
Echidna: see Typhon.
echidna or spiny anteater, animal of the order Monotremata, the egg-laying mammals. A short-legged, grayish brown animal, the echidna is covered with sharp quills and can protect itself by rolling into a tight bristly ball. It may reach 18 in. (46 cm) in length. Padded soles and stout claws make it a clumsy walker but a strong and rapid burrower. The echidna has only a rudimentary tail and lacks both external ears and teeth. With its sensitive muzzle and long sticky tongue it probes for ants and termites. It is nocturnal and hibernates in winter. There are two genera and several species of echidna; all are native to the sandy and rocky areas of New Guinea, E Australia, and Tasmania. Females produce one or two eggs, which are deposited in a rudimentary marsupial pouch. The newly hatched young remain in the pouch, feeding on a milky fluid, until their spines begin to grow. Echidnas are not closely related to true anteaters, which are higher mammals. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Monotremata.
or spiny anteater

Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus).

any of three species of egg-laying mammals (monotremes) of the family Tachyglossidae. Echidnas are stocky and virtually tailless. They have strong-clawed feet and spines on the upper part of the brownish body. The snout is narrow, the mouth very small, and the tongue long and sticky for feeding on termites, ants, and other invertebrates in the soil. The short-beaked echidna common in Australia and Tasmania is 12–21 in. (30–53 cm) long. Two species of long-beaked echidna live only on the island of New Guinea. They are 18–31 in. (45–78 cm) long and have a prominent downward-pointing snout. They are valued for their meat and are declining in numbers. Echidnas exude milk from mammary openings on the skin, and the young lap it up. Seealso anteater; pangolin; hedgehog.

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Echidnas also known as spiny anteaters, are four extant mammal species belonging to the Tachyglossidae family of the monotremes. Together with the Platypus, they are the only surviving members of that order. Although their diet consists largely of ants and termites, they are not actually related to the anteater species. They live in New Guinea and Australia. The echidnas are named after a monster in ancient Greek mythology.

Description

Echidnas are small mammals that are covered with coarse hair and spines. Superficially they resemble the anteaters of South America, and other spiny mammals like hedgehogs and porcupines. They have snouts which have the functions of both the mouth and nose. Their snouts are elongated and slender. They have very short, strong limbs with large claws and are powerful diggers. Echidnas have a tiny mouth and a toothless jaw. They feed by tearing open soft logs, anthills and the like, and use their long, sticky tongue which protrudes from their snout to collect their prey. The Short-beaked Echidna's diet consists largely of ants and termites, while the Zaglossus species typically eat worms and insect larvae.

The long-beaked echidnas have tiny spines on their tongues that help capture their meals.

Echidnas and the Platypus are the only egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes. The female lays a single soft-shelled, leathery egg twenty-two days after mating and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes ten days; the young echidna, called a puggle, then sucks milk from the pores of the two milk patches (monotremes have no nipples) and remains in the pouch for forty-five to fifty-five days, at which time it starts to develop spines. The mother digs a nursery burrow and deposits the puggle, returning every five days to suckle it until it is weaned at seven months.

Male echidnas have a four-headed penis, but only two of the heads are used during mating. The other two heads "shut down" and do not grow in size. The heads used are swapped each time the mammal copulates.

Taxonomy

Echidnas are classified into three genera. The Zaglossus genus includes three extant species and two species known only from fossils, while only one species from the genus Tachyglossus is known. The third genus, Megalibgwilia, is only known from fossils.

Zaglossus

The three living Zaglossus species are endemic to New Guinea. They are rare and are hunted for food. They forage in leaf litter on the forest floor, eating earthworms and insects. The species are:

The two fossil species are:

Tachyglossus

The Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is found in southeast New Guinea and also occurs in almost all Australian environments, from the snow-clad Australian Alps to the deep deserts of the Outback, essentially anywhere that ants and termites are available. Its size is smaller than the Zaglossus species, and it has longer hair.

Megalibgwilia

The genus Megalibgwilia is only known from fossils:

  • Megalibgwilia ramsayi from Late Pleistocene sites in Australia
  • Megalibgwilia robusta from Miocene sites in Australia

References

External links

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