Other than platypus, spiny anteaters or echidnas are the only mammals that lay eggs. Go through this AnimalSake article for some interesting facts about the animal.
As the name rightly suggests, spiny anteaters have spines and hair on their body, and they feed on ants and termites. Otherwise known as echidnas, these anteaters are mammals belonging to the family Tachyglossidae and order Monotremata. Along with platypus, spiny anteaters are the only egg laying mammals. In fact, platypus and spiny anteaters are the only surviving members of the order Monotremata, which is said to have many extant species. While platypus is a semi-aquatic animal with weird physical features, spiny anteaters are terrestrial. Both of them are found in New Guinea and Australia.
The spiny anteater may resemble a porcupine or a hedgehog in looks, but they are not at all related to each other. Even the anteaters of South America are not closely related to these primitive animals that are believed to evolve millions of years ago.
Spiny Anteater Types
Among the four living species of spiny anteaters, three belong to the genus Zaglossus. The fourth species belongs to the genus Tachyglossus. The four species are the western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijni), Sir David’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), the eastern long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni), and the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). The last two species have four and five subspecies respectively.
While the long-beaked ones have long snouts that point downwards and thicker fur, the short-beaked echidnas have shorter beaks and more spines. The long-beaked spiny anteater has a long and spiny tongue that helps in catching and consuming prey. They are also larger in size, as compared to the short-beaked ones. The long-beaked ones can grow to a body weight of up to 17 kilograms, whereas in small-beaked ones, the body weight may range between two to five kilograms.
Some Interesting Facts
Spiny anteaters are animals with elongated and slender snouts, sharp spines, and coarse hair. The snout helps the animal to sense smell and to catch prey. These animals have a small mouth with no teeth. They catch prey with their long sticky tongue.
While the short-beaked spiny anteaters feed on ants and termites, the long-beaked ones may also eat earthworms, other worms, and insect larvae.
The short limbs of spiny anteaters are strong with claws that make them excellent diggers. These claws are also useful in tearing open the anthills and soft rotten logs, that house ants and termites.
Another unique feature is their four-headed penis. During copulation, only two of them are used for releasing sperms. The other two are closed. Studies show that they use the two pairs alternately.
The male members are also equipped with sharp, curved spurs on their ankles. It is believed that this spur can inject poison, as they dig it on their enemies and prey. Even though such attacks can be really painful, it is also contended that spiny anteaters have no poison gland.
Spiny anteaters are not aggressive, and when threatened, they may roll up to form a ball of spines, or burrow themselves in ground. They live inside logs and under thick bushes.
Short-beaked spiny anteater habitat includes coastal and highland regions of New Guinea, and almost all parts of Australia.
While the western long-beaked spiny anteaters are mostly found in higher elevations (4,300 and 13,000 feet), especially in alpine meadows and humid montane forests; eastern long-beaked ones are found at elevations of 6,600 and 9,800 ft. Sir David’s long-beaked spiny anteater is found in mountain forests.
Among the different species, western long-beaked type and Sir David’s long-beaked type are declared as endangered species.
As mentioned above, these anteaters are the only egg laying mammals, other than platypus. The female spiny anteater lays an egg into the abdominal pouch that develops during the breeding season. A single egg with a leathery cover is laid in the pouch, after 22 days of mating. The egg hatches within 10 to 15 days, and the young one is called puggle. The puggle remains in the pouch for around two months, within which they develop spines. This young one feeds from the milk patches, that are located inside the pouch. After 45 to 55 days, the mother leaves the young one in burrows, and feed the puggle once in every five days, till it reaches seven months of age. Once the young one is weaned, it becomes self-reliant.