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16 Surprising Facts About the Echidna

Last Reviewed and Updated on February 4, 2023

A dash of hedgehog or porcupine, a pinch of anteater, add a bit of kangaroo, and a bit of lizard for good taste, mix it all up, and you get an echidna. They are one of the most unique (and strange) mammals in the world, so it is no surprise that there are many interesting facts about the echidna to learn.

About Echidna

Echidna, also known as spiny anteaters, are mammals belonging to the family Tachyglossidae.

There are four living species of echidna;

  • Western long-beaked echidna
  • Sir David’s long-beaked echidna
  • Eastern long-beaked echidna
  • Shirt-beaked echidna

Echidnas can be found in forests and woodlands in Australia and New Guinea.

They are small mammals with elongated and slender snouts and are covered with shark spines.

Short-beaked echidnas mostly eat ants and termites, while other species prefer worms and larvae.

Facts About the Echidna

Even the basic information about these animals is fascinating. Now prepare to be amazed by these facts about the echidna.

1. Echidna blows bubbles to cool down

These animals have an adorable habit that helps them cool down (and serves other purposes too). They blow snot bubbles from their noses; when the bubble pops, snot covers the tip of their snout. As the moisture from the snot evaporates, the snout and blood vessels on it cool down.

2. They are mammals, but they lay eggs

Echidnas and platypi are the only two known mammals that lay eggs.

3. Most mammals produce milk from teats; however, echidnas don’t have them

One thing defining a mammal is its ability to nourish its young with milk. Most mammals produce milk from teats; echidna has no teats. They produce milk from their two milk patches, and it comes out through the pores.

4. Echidnas have a cloaca, something that is usually seen in birds and reptiles

Cloaca is a single opening used to urinate, release feces, and mate. It is common with reptiles, birds, and amphibians but isn’t common in mammals, although echidna isn’t the only mammal with a cloaca.

Both male and female echidna have a cloaca. They do, however, have different reproductive organs inside their cloaca.

5. They carry their young in a pouch

Similar to marsupials (like kangaroos, bilby, bandicoot…), when a young echidna (called a puggle) hatches from the egg, it is underdeveloped. It needs to stay in the mother’s pouch until it develops a little more before it is deposited into a nursery burrow dug by its mother.

6. The short-beaked echidna has the largest prefrontal cortex-to-body ratio of all mammals

The short-beaked echidna has the largest prefrontal cortex-to-body ratio of any mammal. Its prefrontal cortex takes up 50% of brain volume (29% in humans).

The prefrontal cortex is the front part of the brain that is considered to be the center responsible for the orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.

7. Their tongues can stretch up 6 inches / 15 cm

Echidnas use highly specialized sticky tongues to catch their prey (insects or earthworms).

They can stretch their tongues up to about 6 inches / 15 cm, which is impressive considering their size.

8. They have spines and fur

These animals resemble hedgehogs and porcupines but aren’t closely related to either one. Echidnas’ spines are modified hairs (they are made up of the same material as our hair and nails). They also have a layer of fur that can be completely hidden behind their spines.

9. Their mating rituals involve forming an “echidna train”

Their mating ritual is extremely interesting. Males form a line behind a female, known as the echidna train or the echidna love train. Usually, three to four males follow a female, but there can be more (even more than ten), with the youngest male being last in the line. Males follow the female wherever she goes in hopes that they will be the one that mates.

This can last for weeks. When the female is ready to mate, she will signal the males. The males will then dig a donut-shaped trench around a female and engage in pushing battles, trying to push other echidnas out of the “ring.” The last echidna standing is usually the one that gets to mate.

10. Their name comes from Greek mythology

One of the coolest facts about the echidna is its name. Echidna is a creature from Greek mythology. It is a monster that is half snake and half woman. Echidnas were given this name due to them having characteristics of both mammals and reptiles.

11. Echidna have electro-sensors

Similar to platypuses, echidna have electro-sensors. They are located on its snout, and echidna uses them to sense their prey burrowing in the ground.

12. They are powerful diggers

Echidna is made for digging. Their limbs are short, strong, and equipped with large claws, perfect for digging. They forage for food by digging into ant or termite mounds, and they dig deep burrows where they rest.

13. Echidna has the second lowest active body temperature of all mammals

The active body temperature of echidna is 91.4 °F / 33 °C, and it is the second-lowest active body temperature of all mammals. The only known mammal with a lower active body temperature is the platypus.

14. When swimming, their snouts are out of the water like snorkels

Echidna may not look the part, but they are actually great swimmers. When swimming, they stick their long snouts out of the water, resembling a snorkel. Usually, only the snout and some of the spines will be above water.

15. They have no teeth

Echidnas are toothless. They grind their food with their mouths and tongue.

16. Hatching echidnas have an egg tooth

An egg tooth is a temporary sharp “tooth” on the bill or the snout of animals that hatch from eggs used to break the egg. This tooth is later lost.

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