• Short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) can be found all across Australia (including Tasmania) and in parts of New Guinea. The diverse biogeographic realms of Australia are all suitable for this impressive mammal that roams the ground sweeping up a diet of ants, beetles, termites, and other invertebrates with its long, sticky tongue. They can even be found in urban parks. Well-known throughout Australia, they are emblazoned onto the back of the country’s five-cent coin.

    Echidnas, along with platypuses (also native to Australia), are the only members of a grouping of mammals called monotremes. Monotremes are mammals that lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. A female short-beaked echidna lays just one egg directly to her pouch at a time. The young echidna, called a puggle, will spend almost all of its time in its mother’s pouch (similar to marsupials, another type of mammal) for around three months.

    Spines on the back of echidnas act as a defense mechanism that will intimidate or injure potential predators. Their claws allow them to dig into the ground easily. When threatened, they will dig into the ground to burrow or they will curl up into a ball. Either way, predators will risk getting poked with the echidna’s spines if approached.

    In the autumn and winter months in Australia, short-beaked echidnas will hibernate in burrows. Their average body temperature and their metabolism are lower than that of most other mammals. The low body temperature and metabolism are both factors that contribute to their relatively long life span for small mammals (up to 50 years in captivity).

    1. What is different about the birthing process of monotreme mammals compared to placental mammals?

      Monotreme mammals lay eggs from which their young are hatched. Placental mammals give birth to live young that are developed inside their mother’s uterus, attached to a placenta. Although there is a difference between these groupings of mammals, all young mammals are nursed with milk from their mother’s mammary glands.

    2. What continents can you find monotremes on?

      Monotremes can only be found on the Australian continent, which includes Papua New Guinea.

    3. What does the short-beaked echidna use its beak for?

      The short-beaked echidna uses its stiff beak to dig into the ground, to break into or flip over logs, to penetrate termite mounds, and to get access to any environment where it can find insect larvae and other food for consumption.  

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    biogeography Noun study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in space and time.
    hibernate Verb

    to reduce activity almost to sleeping in order to conserve food and energy, usually in winter.

    invertebrate Noun

    animal without a spine.

    marsupial Noun

    mammal that carries its young in a pouch on the mother's body.

    metabolism Noun

    chemical changes in living cells by which energy is provided for vital processes.

    monotreme Noun

    type of mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young.

    predator Noun

    animal that hunts other animals for food.