Range:

Australia, Tasmania, and Indonesia, Papua New Guinea

Habitat:

Scrubland, desert, and montane forest

An illogical mammal?

“It’s a porcupine!”
“It’s a hedgehog!”
“It's an echidna?”

Zoos with echidnas hear these comments all the time. The echidna (ih-KID-na), or spiny anteater, is an unusual mammal. It is so different from any other that it still puzzles researchers and scientists. The echidna has remained unchanged since prehistoric times, finding ways to survive while other species became extinct. But what really sets the echidna apart from other mammals? Female echidnas lay eggs! The only other egg-laying mammal is the duck-billed platypus; both are native to Australia.

Rough habitat

The echidna is found throughout Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea, from the highlands to the deserts to the forests. It is a solitary creature and minds its own business. The echidna may be active during the day, evening, or both, depending on the season and food sources.

An echidna does not have ear flaps like we do. Its ears are large, vertical slits just behind its eyes. It has an amazing sense of hearing.
It is difficult to tell a male and female echidna apart just by looking at them, as both sexes have a pouch on the belly.
The taxonomic family name for echidnas, Tachyglossidae, means “fast tongue.”
Egg-laying mammals are called monotremes. There are only three monotremes in the world: the long-beaked echidna, short-beaked echidna, and duck-billed platypus.
The echidna’s snout is very sensitive to touch and can feel vibrations.
An echidna’s body temperature is lower than that of most other mammals and is not controlled in the same way.
The Sir David's long-beaked echidna is named for Sir David Attenborough, a British naturalist famous for his nature films.

The San Diego Zoo’s first echidnas arrived from Australia in 1956. Acquired from a private donation, the pair lived in the Zoo’s Children’s Zoo for many years before an astute keeper noted that the larger one, named Erma, might be a “he” rather than a “she.” A thorough veterinary exam revealed the truth, and Erma was renamed Victor. He continued to live in the Children’s Zoo as our oldest mammal and served as a wonderful echidna ambassador until his passing in 2012. He was believed to be at least 58 years old. See a blog post about Victor...

The Zoo currently has two short-beaked echidnas that serve as animal ambassadors. They can be seen during special animal presentations or in their exhibit in Australian Outback.

All three long-beaked echidna species are at critical risk, hunted for food by people using trained dogs. A loss of forest habitat to logging, a nickel mine, and farming activity has also had an effect on the long-beaked echidna’s population. It is estimated that there are less than 300,000 long-beaked echidnas left in the world.