Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Echidna or Spiny Ant Eater

Tachyglossus aculeatus


The Echidna is a small mammal that can grow to 18 inches long. They are covered in gray-brown fur and sharp quills that are used as protection against predators. They have short clumsy legs with padded feet and bulky claws that allow this animal to burrow quickly into the ground. It does not have any external ears or teeth but have very tiny eyes and a long, tube-like snout.


Echidnas can only be found in New Guinea, East Australia and Tasmania. Generally, they are seen in rocky or sandy habitats. Echidnas are preyed upon by eagles and Tasmanian devils. They were even once eaten by the Aboriginal people and early settlers but now they are protected by law.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

The long muzzle and sticky tongue of the echidna are used to catch ants and termites.  The tongue is about 15cm in length. The time of foraging for food varies based on the temperature and location.


Echidnas are usually solitary animals but males will follow a female during breeding season, which is once every year from the end of June to early September.  About 27-28 days later the females lay one or two eggs, which are placed in a marsupial pouch, similar to the pouch of a kangaroo.  The eggs hatch after about 10 days of incubation in the mother’s pouch. This organism is of the order Monotremata, which means it is an egg-laying mammal. Even though the echidna lays eggs instead of giving live birth, it is still considered a mammal because it has fur (beneath its spines), and also because it nurses its young. Once the eggs hatch, the baby echidnas feed on milk produced by glands inside of the mother’s pouch. The babies will stay inside their mother’s pouch until they begin to grow spines at about 2-3 months of age and they are weaned from their mother’s milk at about 6 months of age. Female echidnas typically reproduce once every year.

Months and Times of Activity

The activity of this species varies based on location and temperature.  In warmer climates, echidnas are nocturnal creatures, meaning they are most active at night. In temperate climates, echidnas begin foraging at dusk, and cooler climates (such as southern Australia), echidnas are active during the day.  This species hibernates during the winter. Breeding season occurs from the end of June to September. A mother echidna will spend most of her time in a burrow, and when she leaves to go foraging she covers the babies with leaves.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

  • To protect itself against predators, the echidna will quickly burrow the bottom half of its body and then roll into a tight ball so that only its sharp quills are exposed.
  • This species is commonly infested with the world’s largest flea, Bradiopsylla echidnae (4mm long).
  • The echidna is a strong swimmer.
  • Male echidnas have a spur on their back feet, similar to those of the platypus, but the spurs of an echidna are blunt and do not secrete venom.
  • Children’s Book: Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna by Cathy Goonack


Echidna, in zoology. (2011). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 1.
Funk & Wagnalls, (2002), Echidna. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, World Almanac Education Group, Inc.
"Short-beaked Echidna. (2012)" Short-beaked Echidna. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.