Here’s a feel good story to end the week – a baby echidna is recovering well at Taronga Zoo after being attacked by chickens in a backyard.
The puggle, nicknamed Bonsai, is getting 24-hour care from Annabelle Sehlmeier at Taronga Wildlife Hospital as he or she (it’s too early to tell which) recuperates from a chicken attack that left deep scratches.
“We’re not sure if the baby was alone because its mother died or because it was accidentally dug out of its nursery burrow,” said Annabelle.
Unlike other mammals, echidna babies don’t suck on teats. Puggles use their tiny, see-through claws to grip the special hairs within the mother’s pouch.
The mother does not have nipples the way other mammals do. Instead, the little puggle laps up milk that the mother’s body secretes from special glands in her pouch.
“Normally a baby echidna would feed every 3-5 days when its mum returns to the burrow, but this little one wants to feed every day. I guess it’s making up for lost time,” said Annabelle.
“My palm is the closest thing I’ve got to an echidna belly and it works quite well. After a feed, the puggle will have a little wander around in my lap and then go to sleep.”
An adult female echidna usually lays a single egg once a year. The leathery egg is about the size of a grape. The female rolls the newly laid egg into a deep pocket, or pouch, on her belly to keep it safe. Ten days later the baby echidna hatches. At birth, a puggle is smaller than a jelly bean.
The echidna is adapted for very rapid digging, having short limbs and powerful claws. The claws on the hind feet are elongated and curve backwards; to enable cleaning and grooming between the spines.
The diet of echidnas is largely made up of ants and termites, although, they will eat other invertebrates especially grubs, larvae and worms. The strong forepaws are used to open up the ant or termite nest and the echidna then probes the nest with its sensitive snout.
Any insects in the nest are caught on the echidna’s rapidly moving 15-centimetre tongue which is covered with a layer of sticky mucous.
Egg-laying mammals are called monotremes. There are only three kinds of monotremes in the world: the long-beaked echidna, short-beaked echidna, and duck-billed platypus.