When we met our echnida at Judd’s Lagoon, it was the first time the girls had seen this Australian native animal in the wild. They’re pretty shy creatures, and meeting one is a real treat.

Echidna, November 2010

The last time David and I had seen one was before Aisha was born, when we were camping on South Stradbroke Island off the coast of Brisbane. Native animals are rare in many parts of urban Australia, and this encounter with an echidna was extra-special because it happened in the wild.

Meeting the echidna, November 2010
We enjoyed the opportunity to have a closer look at this spiny ant-eater.

The echidna is a monotreme — a mammal that breaks all the rules by laying eggs and producing milk for its young. The only other monotreme is a platypus.

Sometimes called the spiny anteater, the echidna is almost blind. It relies on its nose to sense the electrical signals put out by its favourite food — ants and termites — and it digs very well with its claws, flicking out its tongue to catch the insects.

When threatened, it curls into a ball, protecting itself from predators, or it runs and burrows itself into the ground, using long claws on its front feet to hold onto soil and roots so it can’t be pulled out. It doesn’t have a regular home, it just takes shelter when it needs to.

Echidna, November 2010
Whenever we picked the echidna up, it curled into a tight ball to protect itself. We couldn't even see its eyes!

After the female echidna is pregnant, she digs a burrow and lays an egg into her pouch. When the grape-sized baby “puggle” hatches, it suckles milk from its mother for up to 12 weeks. After it grows spines, the puggle is (understandably) evicted from the pouch, although the mother still lets it suckle for up to six months.

The echidna is a nocturnal animal, foraging mostly at night, although in milder weather it can hunt all day. In the past, Indigenous Australians have eaten it and have used the spikes as arrows. Today, it’s a protected animal and a delight to discover in the wild.

To find out more about the echidna, as always, Wikipedia is a fantastic starting point.