Friday, 5 September 2014


Echidna spines - quills - there is a layer of soft fur between the quills for insulation
The warming weather has brought out all sorts of animals and this echidna was busy grubbing for food yesterday. She was a big one, about 4-5 kilos and probably hungry after the lean months in the cold Canberra winter when she would likely have spent much of the time in torpor hidden in a burrow. I found her by following up the alarm calls from an Eastern Rosella and a mob of Noisy Miners, not that she was a threat to them.

She was slowly working her through the undergrowth
I could see that she was busy with her head down and a she was walking in my direction I knelt down to lean the camera on a fallen branch, then watched as she came closer and closer, to a few metres away, still quite undisturbed by my presence.

Echidnas spend spend much of their time tearing open old fallen branches in search of termites
It was such a treat to be able to watch this echidna from front on, so often they see or hear us first and either scuttle away offering a rear-view, or they quickly dig themselves down into the ground, curl up and hide. I could see just how powerful those limbs are as she dug around. The limbs are shortened for more strength and the bones in the feet are fused into tight pads. Only the extreme digital bones protrude and they are sheathed in thick claws - pretty tough finger nails.

The thick strong claws and highly adapted snout
Their eyesight is not poor, but not much more than adequate for detecting potential predators or recognising their way around their home range. They do have a wonderful nose though, with finely tuned touch, smell and electrical receptors. The whole modified mouth parts including the nose are covered in a leathery skin and I watched as she poked this snout into the soil, surprisingly firmly for such a delicate organ. Every now and then i caught a glimpse of her long sticky tongue which whipped in and out to catch termites or any other insect which I could not see as they were all out of view down in the holes.

The hind claws point backwards with long curling outer claws.
These are used for grooming between those long quills
With so many quills and as they use the evasive action of curling into a ball for protection, any large external ears structure would be a disadvantage. So echidnas have simple ear-holes hidden within the fur and quills. I had good views of these as this one stretched and bent at my feet. They hear most people approach, as people are generally noisy, and they go quiet and still til the threat passes. Yet, I can recognise the distinctive shuffling sounds which echidnas make, and I turn the tables to stop still and watch them. That is usually from a distance, though, not as close as with this one.

The echidna's ear is hidden below  the quills
After about twenty minutes of undisturbed behaviour watching, I shuffled off myself. The echidna stopped still as I stood up, but I was gone before she felt any need to dig for safety. She then walked off unconcerned.

 An undisturbed echidna carries on with its own business

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