A short-beaked echidna is a mammal covered in spines whose diet includes ants and termites. It is native to Australia and New Guinea and is a common presence in their ecosystems. The echidna is one of only five species of mammal that reproduces by laying eggs. Along with the other members of the echidna family, it is also called the spiny anteater. The spiny anteater's scientific name is Tachyglossus aculeatus.
A small mammal, the short-beaked echidna weighs only 4.5 to 11 pounds (2 to 5 kilograms) and measures 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) in length. Most of its body is hidden beneath dense fur and spines, though the head and feet are visible. The echidna has a 3 inch (7.5 centimeter) nose for which it is named.
The spines that cover the echidna are approximately 2 inches (5 cm) long. These spines are hairs composed of hardened keratin, the protein found in a mammal's hair and outer layer of skin. This specialized keratin creates thick, sharp spines that the short-beaked echidna uses as defense when threatened. It pulls in its head and feet, creating a small, spiny ball.
The short-beaked echidna, a well-known digger, has powerful front legs and is capable of burrowing rapidly. The echidna burrows when it feels threatened or if it needs to retreat from high temperatures. Finding shelter from high heat is especially important due to the echidna’s low body temperature of 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) and its inability to sweat. It also uses the tunnels and burrows to hibernate.
The preferred diet of the short-beaked echidna is ants and termites. This simple diet allows the echidna to survive almost anywhere. It only has to break apart old logs, ant hills, or termite mounds for food. To catch its prey, the short-beaked echidna uses its narrow snout and long, thin tongue, which is capable of reaching an additional 7 inches (18 cm).
Echidna reproduction is unique among all other mammals except the platypus, which also lays eggs. Short-beaked echidnas are mostly solitary creatures and only congregate with other echidnas to mate. Once the mating is complete, the male leaves the female. The female then carries her single egg or her young, once the egg hatches, in a pouch on the lower side of her abdomen. Approximately six months after birth, the younger echidna leaves its mother and never returns.