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AUSTRALIAN ECHIDNA (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

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Study history

Australian echidna (lat. Tachyglossus aculeatus) is an oviparous mammal of the echidna family. This is the only representative of the genus of true echidna Tachyglossus, sometimes its subspecies, the Tasmanian echidna, stands out in a separate species - Tachyglossus setosus.

Australian echidna was first described in 1792 by the English zoologist George Shaw (he described the platypus a few years later). The show gave it the name Myrmecophaga aculeata, mistakenly classing this strange long-nosed animal, caught in an anthill, as an anteater. Ten years later, anatomist Edward Home discovered a common feature in echidna and platypus - the cloaca, into which the intestines, ureters, and genital tract open. Based on this feature, a single-pass detachment was isolated.

Echidna successively changed several more names - Ornithorhynchus hystrix, Echidna hystrix, Echidna aculeate, until she received the current one - Tachyglossus aculeatus. Its generic name in Greek means “fast language”, the species - “prickly”.

Spread

Lives throughout Australia, as well as in New Guinea, Tasmania, and on the islands located in the Bass Strait. The habitat is plains, moist forests, mountains, and even cities.

Appearance

Outwardly, the animal looks like a hedgehog most of all - its entire body is covered with hard coarse hairs, and its sides and back are studded with long, 5-6 cm, yellow needles with black tips. In length, the Australian echidna grows to 50 cm, while having a weight of up to 7 kg. The tail and auricles are so small that they are practically invisible.

The muzzle of the echidna is very elongated, up to 7.5 cm in length, and plays an extremely important role in the life of the animal, since its vision is poorly developed, and the environment is known mostly through smell and hearing. The mouth, which is a very small hole at the end of the muzzle, has no teeth, but it has a sticky tongue that is 25 cm long.

The absence of teeth is compensated by the presence of hard pads in the back of the mouth, about which the food is rubbed. In addition, together with food, earth and sand enter the stomach, which contribute to the final grinding of prey.

Breeding

Echidna live so secretively that the features of their mating behavior and reproduction were published only in 2003, after 12 years of field observations. It turned out that during the courtship, which lasts from May to September (in different parts of the range, the time of its onset varies), these animals are kept in groups consisting of a female and several males. Both females and males at this time emit a strong musky smell, allowing them to find each other. The group feeds and rests together, at the transitions the echidna follow in one go, forming a “train” or caravan. Ahead is a female, followed by males, which may be 7-10. Courtship lasts up to 4 weeks. When the female is ready for mating, she lays down, and the males begin to circle around her, throwing lumps of earth to the side. After a while, a real trench 18–25 cm deep forms around the female. The males violently push each other, pushing them out of the trench until one male winner remains inside the ring. If the male was only one, the trench is straight. Mating (on the side) lasts about an hour.

Pregnancy lasts 21-28 days. The female builds a brood hole - a warm, dry chamber, often dug under an empty anthill, termite, or even under a pile of garden debris next to human housing. Usually in a clutch there is one leathery egg with a diameter of 13-17 mm and weighing only 1.5 g. For a long time it remained a mystery how the echidna moves the egg from the cloaca to the brood bag - its mouth is too small for this and its paws are clumsy. Presumably, laying it off, the echidna cleverly curls up in a ball, while the skin on the abdomen forms a fold that secretes sticky fluid. Stiffening, she glues an egg rolled out on her stomach and at the same time gives the bag a shape.

After 10 days, a tiny cub hatching: it is 15 mm long and weighs only 0.4-0.5 g. When hatching, it breaks the egg shell with the help of a horn cone on the nose, an analogue of the egg tooth of birds and reptiles. The eyes of the newborn echidna are hidden under the skin, and the hind legs are practically undeveloped. But the front legs already have well-defined toes. With their help, the newborn in about 4 hours moves from the back of the bag to the front, where there is a special area of ​​the skin called the milky field, or areola. On this site, 100-150 pores of the mammary glands open, each pore is equipped with a modified hair. When a baby squeezes these hairs with his mouth, milk enters his stomach. High iron content gives echidna milk a pink color.

Young echidna grow very quickly, in just two months, increasing their weight 800–1000 times, that is, up to 400 g. The baby remains in the mother’s bag for 50–55 days - until the age when he develops thorns. After that, the mother leaves him in shelter and comes to feed every 5-10 days until the age of 5-6 months. In total, breastfeeding lasts 200 days. Between 180 and 240 days of life, the young echidna leaves the hole and begins to lead an independent life. Puberty occurs in 2-3 years. Echidna propagates only once every two years or less, according to some sources - once every 3-7 years. But the low rate of reproduction is offset by her long life expectancy. In nature, the echidna lives to be 16 years old, the record of longevity in the zoo is 45 years.

Lifestyle

Australian echidna can live in almost any part of the mainland, regardless of landscape. Their home can be both moist forests and arid areas, both mountains and plains. Even in cities, they are not so rare.

True, echidna does not tolerate heat and cold because they have no sweat glands. In hot weather, they become lethargic, and at low temperatures fall into hibernation, which can last 4 months. During this period, they spend their subcutaneous stores of fat.

Echidna love to eat well and eat a lot. To do this, they can go quite long distances without stopping and resting, which can reach 10-15 kilometers per day.

Echidna are lonely by nature. In groups, they are united only with the beginning of the mating season, and then again scatter. They do not guard their territory; they do not build a permanent shelter. Echidnas are free and free to travel wherever they wish. Any secluded place is suitable for them to sleep and rest, whether it is a hole between the roots of trees, a crevice between stones, a hollow of fallen trees, etc.

They move a little awkwardly. But they swim very well. Echidhins are able to cross small ponds.

Nutrition

The food for the vipers is mainly ants and termites, which they obtain, tearing the earth and termite mounds with their powerful claws. Do not disdain these animals and other insects and earthworms. And although the echidna has no teeth, on the back of her tongue there are horn teeth, which rub against the crested sky and grind the prey. With the help of the tongue, the echidna swallows not only food, but also small pebbles and particles of soil, which, getting into the stomach, serve as millstones for the final grinding of prey - similar to what happens in birds.

Number

Australian echidna is common in Australia and Tasmania and is not an endangered species. It is less affected by land clearing, since the Australian echidna does not impose special requirements on habitats other than sufficient food.

Australian echidna and man

The main danger for it is vehicles and the destruction of the habitat, leading to fragmentation of the range. Animals introduced by colonists prey on echidnas, and the introduced tapeworm parasite Spirometra erinaceieuropaei is deadly for them.

Echidhins tolerate captivity well, but do not breed. Only five zoos managed to get offspring of Australian echidna, but in no case did young animals live to adulthood.

The Australian echidna is depicted on a 5-cent coin and on a $ 200 commemorative coin issued in Australia in 1992. Echidna Milli was one of the mascots of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF

Australian Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Class mammals.
The unit is single-pass, or ovipositing.
The family of echidna.
Distribution: Australia, Tasmania and the lowlands of New Guinea.
The length of the body with the head: 30-50 cm Weight: 2-7 kg.
Food: ants and termites.
Puberty: from 1 year.
Duration of pregnancy: 16-27 days.
Duration of hatching eggs: about 10 days.
Number of cubs: 1 overlay.
Life expectancy: up to 50 years (in captivity and nature reserves).

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