• Alex Cooper

Alex's Aussie Animal Encounters - Echidna

According to Greek mythology, the Echidna was a terrifying half woman/half snake creature who lived in a cave and birthed many of the most fearsome monsters of legend.

The Echidna's Australian namesake is...not.

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worms...

If you're confused why this prickly pal shares its name with a terrifying monster, it's simply because it was thought to have characteristics of two different groups of animals (mammals and reptiles).

It is, of course, a mammal, but it's (almost) unique, since it lays eggs yet nurses its young with milk. The only other egg-laying mammal is the equally weird platypus.

Fun fact - a baby echidna is called a puggle.

There are four species of echidna, the long-beaked (comprising three living species) and short-beaked (all on its own) varieties, and these, along with the platypus, are the only suriviving monotremes.

The chap above was a short-beaked echidna I saw in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania. (The long-beaked echidnas live in New Guinea.)

Short-beaked echidnas are quite common in Australia, and are found in a wide range of habitats, although they're not always easy to spot. (I've only seen them twice.) Despite my caption, they prefer ants and termites, while the long-beaked species will snack on worms.

They're sometimes known as a spiny anteater, since they're spiny and eat ants (makes sense), although they're not closely related to the anteaters.

They are, apparently, quite timid creatures and, like a hedgehog, can roll into a ball at the sign of trouble. My girlfriend and I must have friendly faces (or this one was very short-sighted) because our spiny friend didn't seem too bothered as he toddled along and we took pictures.

Even though the echidna is nowhere near as rare as many iconic Aussie animals, it was still special to see one in the wild. The little guy was quite endearing, and seemed bemused by a twig in its way.

Final Verdict - 11/10, good value.

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