Australia has some of the strangest and most divine creatures on this planet. The day I got to see an echidna was a thrill.
The short-beaked echidna is a monotreme, meaning it is a mammal that lays eggs. There are only two kinds of monotremes in the world: the echidna and the platypus. They both live in Australia and nearby New Guinea, and I am happy to report I have seen both. (I have written about the delightful platypus in earlier posts. Click here to read Chasing a Platypus.)
The day I saw the echidna was one of my first days in Australia. A ranger in the park, where it looked like we were the only humans within 50 miles, had told us to go to the Black Swamp if we wanted to see a platypus. We spent most of the searingly hot day at this swamp, but never saw a platypus. Then on the hike back, with no animals or humans in sight, we heard a disturbing rustle at our feet. Fortunately we remained quiet and just stepped back. Then out waddles this spiky little brown ball.
Common throughout Australia, Tachyglossus aculeatus are no longer than 18 inches long and weigh less than ten pounds. The entire body is covered with spines (except for its underside and face). Each spine is 1-2 inches long, and used in defense. They have strong little legs for burrowing into hibernation; and a long, sensitive snout for finding food. Sometimes called spiny anteater, they eat ants, termites and beetle larvae, and use their sticky tongue to lick them up. To read more about this unusual animal, click here.
I went back to “Oz” again years later, and overall I have spent six weeks here, but I never came across another echidna. Fortunately the few minutes I had with this special creature were savored and celebrated, before he waddled away.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander