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Echidna - Mother of All Monsters in Greek myth

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Description

The echidna is an unusual mammal. It has remained unchanged since prehistoric times but has found ways to survive while other species became extinct. The main difference between the echidna apart and other mammal’s is that echidnas lay eggs The only other egg-laying mammal which is the same family with Echidnas is the duck-billed platypus, another animal native to Australia. Echidnas also known as spiny anteaters belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. There are different types of them: Short-beaked Echidna Long-beaked echidna Western Long-beaked Echidna  Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna Eastern Long-beaked Echidna

Wild_shortbeak_echidna

In 1991, a fossil tooth of a 61-million-year-old platypus was found in southern Argentina (since named Monotrematum, though it is now considered to be an Obdurodon species). Molecular clock and fossil dating gives a wide range of dates for the split between echidnas and platypuses, one survey putting the split at 19–48 million years ago, another putting it at 17–89 million years ago. All these dates are more recent than the oldest known platypus fossils, suggesting that both the short-beaked and long-beaked echidna species are derived from a platypus-like ancestor.

 

Habitat

Because of the small varieties of food which Echidnas eat which are ants and termites so Echidnas are found only in Australia from the highlands to deserts to forests, or remotely in New Guinea, Papua - Cyclops Mountain forest habitat. The Echidna has no fixed home and can be found in a variety of shelters from rocks to wood, small caves, dents or even under bushes.
The Echidna found in Australia is the Short-beaked Echidna The Echidna is found all over Australia and can survive a range of temperatures and habitats. Though mostly nocturnal, in mild weather they can be seen during the day, but if the weather is extreme (either very cold or hot) Echidnas will stay in shelter.

Echidna (mythology)

In the most ancient layers of Greek mythology, Echidna was called the "Mother of All Monsters" because most of the monsters in Greek myth were the offspring of Echidna and her husband Typhon.



Echidna_mythlogy_ Echidna was described by Hesiod as a female monster spawned in a cave, who mothered with her mate Typhoeus (or Typhon) almost every major horrible monster in the Greek myths, the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal man. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim Echidna, a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days.



Echidna-(mythology)

According to Apollodorus, Echidna was the daughter of Tartarus and Gaia, while according to Hesiod, either Ceto and Phorcys or Chrysaor and the naiad Callirhoe were her parents. Another account says her parents were Peiras and Styx (according to Pausanias, who did not know who Peiras was aside from her father. Echidna was a drakaina, with the face and torso of a beautiful woman (depicted as winged in archaic vase-paintings) and the body of a serpent, sometimes having two serpent's tails. 



She is also sometimes described, as Karl Kerenyi noted, in archaic vase-painting, with a pair of echidnas performing sacred rites in a vineyard, while on the opposite side of the vessel, goats were attacking the vines: thus chthonic Echidnae are presented as protectors of the vineyard. The site of her cave Homer calls "Arima, couch of Typhoeus".When she and her mate attacked the Olympians, Zeus beat them back and punished Typhon by sealing him under Mount Etna. However, Zeus allowed Echidna and her children to live as a challenge to future heroes. Although to Hesiod (Theogony above), she was an immortal and ageless nymph, according to Apollodorus, Echidna used to "carry off passers-by", until she was finally killed where she slept by Argus Panoptes, the hundred-eyed giant.

Description

An echidna is a solitary creature. It may be active during the day, evening, or both, depending on the season and food sources. The short-beaked echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus has dark fur that is almost completely hidden by a covering of hollow, barbless quills, called spines, on its back and sides. The echidna’s short legs aren’t made for running but for digging. The hind legs point backwards, with an extra-long claw on the second toe that can be used to “comb” or scratch out dirt and bugs that get in between the echidna’s spines.



Echidna_skeleton

Echidnas are small mammals that are covered with coarse hair and spines. Superficially they resemble the anteaters of South America and other spiny mammals like hedgehogs and porcupines. They have snouts which have the functions of both mouth and nose. Their snouts are elongated and slender. They have very short, strong limbs with large claws and are powerful diggers. Echidnas have a tiny mouth and a toothless jaw. They feed by tearing open soft logs, anthills and the like, and use their long, sticky tongue, which protrudes from their snout, to collect their prey.

Wild_shortbeak_echidna


The Short-beaked Echidna's diet consists largely of ants and termites, while the Zaglossus species typically eat worms and insect larvae. An Echidnas body is covered with two types of hair, a short coarse hair to keep them warm and long sharp spines each being a single hair but hard – like to our fingernails in composition or human hair - .The coloring and length of their hair differs depends on climate and habitat In size Echidnas are between 35 - 45 cms long and weigh anything between 2-7 kg. The Echidnas feet have sharp claws for digging and though like the Platypus the male has a spur on its ankle, it is not poisonous. They make a sniffing noise as they search for food

The long-beaked echidnas have tiny spines on their tongues that help capture their prey. Echidnas and the Platypus are the only egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes. The female lays a single soft-shelled, leathery egg twenty-two days after mating and deposits it directly into her pouch. 

Echidna_-_House

    Hatching takes place after ten days; the young echidna, called a puggle, then sucks milk from the pores of the two milk patches (monotremes have no nipples) and remains in the pouch for forty-five to fifty-five days at which time it starts to develop spines. The mother digs a nursery burrow and deposits the puggle, returning every five days to suckle it until it is weaned at seven months. Male echidnas have a four-headed penis. During mating, the heads on one side "shut down" and do not grow in size; the other two are used to release semen into the female's two-branched reproductive tract. The heads used are swapped each time the mammal copulates.

Contrary to previous research, the echidna does enter REM sleep, albeit only when the ambient temperature is around 25°C. Evolution Molecular clock and fossil dating suggest echidnas split from platypuses 19–48 million years ago. Echidnas evolved from water-foraging ancestors which returned to living completely on the land, even though this put them in competition with marsupials. Because of this, it has been suggested that "oviparous reproduction in monotremes confers advantages over marsupials, a view consistent with present ecological partitioning between monotremes and marsupials."

Types Zaglossus The three living Zaglossus species are endemic to New Guinea. They are rare and are hunted for food. They forage in leaf litter on the forest floor, eating earthworms and insects.

The species are:
• the Western Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bruijni), of the highland forests
• Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), described in 1961 and preferring a still higher habitat
• the Eastern Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bartoni), of which four distinct subspecies have been identified

The two fossil species are :
• Zaglossus robustus
• Zaglossus hacketti Tachyglossus The Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is found in southeast New Guinea and also occurs in almost all Australian environments, from the snow-clad Australian Alps to the deep deserts of the Outback, essentially anywhere that ants and termites are available. It is smaller than the Zaglossus species, and it has longer hair. Megalibgwilia The genus Megalibgwilia is known only from fossils:
• Megalibgwilia ramsayi from Late Pleistocene sites in Australia
• Megalibgwilia robusta from Miocene sites in Australia/

Breeding

Before mating season the female Echidna develops a pouch which usually occurs in July and August. Couple of weeks (3-4 weeks) after the matting the female digs a burrow and lays 1 soft leathery like egg into this pouch.To hatch it takes around 10 days As Platypus baby, the young is blind, hairless,and attaches itself to a milk patch on its mothers skin inside the pouch and suckles for the next 8 to 12 weeks Once spines develop on the young Echidna can live the pouch and then  stays in the burrow. Still the female Echidna comes back and regularly lets the young Echidna suckle for the next 6 months Baby Echidnas are called a "puggle"

 

Enemies & Defense mechanism

When an Echidna when it feels threatened she can :
• Run away on its short stubby legs if on a hard surface such as a road or rocks
•  Curl itself into a ball protecting its softer underbelly, and only showing sharp spines to its threat
•  Burrows down below the surface of the soil showing only its spines along its back, and holding on below the surface with its claws thus resisting being pulled out of the ground

Enemies
• Man especially the motor car kills hundreds every year
• Dingoes, foxes as well as feral cats and dogs are also responsible for deaths
• Bushfires and Droughts are a natural enemy.

   

Interesting facts

• In 1991, a fossil tooth of a 61-million-year-old platypus was found in southern Argentina .Molecular clock and fossil dating gives a wide range of dates for the split between echidnas and platypuses, one survey putting the split at 19–48 million years ago, another putting it at 17–89 million years ago.
• Both the short-beaked and long-beaked echidna species are derived from a platypus-like ancestor.
• Echidnas and the Platypus are the only egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes
• Though like the Platypus the male has a spur on its ankle, it is not poisonous
• Echidnas can swim. They don't like the heat.
• The tiny echidna baby is called a puggle. It's smaller than a jellybean.
• Echidnas have a four-headed penis, but only two of the heads are used during mating. The other two heads "shut down" and do not grow in size.

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Sources:
www.australian-animals.net/echidna.htm
www.abc.net.au/schoolstv/animals/ECHIDNAS.htm
http://www.cmnh.org/site/AboutUs/PressRoom/PhotosArtLogo/oct10mammals.aspx
www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echidna
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