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Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) Fact Sheet: Summary

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) Fact Sheet

Short-beaked echidna at the San Diego Zoo

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

 

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia — mammals

Order: Monotremata — monotremes (egg-laying mammals)

Family: Tachyglossidae — echidnas, spiny anteaters

Genus: Tachyglossus

Species: Tachyglossus aculeatus - short-beaked echidna

Subspecies: Tachyglossus aculeatus acanthion
Subspecies: Tachyglossus aculeatus aculeatus
Subspecies: Tachyglossus aculeatus lawesii
Subspecies: Tachyglossus aculeatus multiaculeatus
Subspecies: Tachyglossus aculeatus setosus

Body Weight
2-7 kg (4-15 lb); some sources state up to 8-10 kg (18-22 lb)

Head-body Length
30-45 cm (12-18 in)

Snout Length
6.0-7.5 cm (2.4-3.0 in)

Pelage
Typically dark in color; ranges from black to light brown to reddish-brown to honey. Blonde echidnas present on Flinders and Kangaroo Islands.

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range
Australia (including Kangaroo Island and Tasmania) and New Guinea

Habitat
All terrestrial habitats, from snowy mountains to tropical rainforests to arid zones

IUCN Status
Least Concern

CITES Appendix
Not listed

Other Designations
Protected throughout Australia

Populations in the Wild
Not known, perhaps 5-50 million in Australia

Locomotion
Distinct rolling walk that is unique among modern mammals. Short stride. Able to swim.

Activity Cycle
Most active at night, evening, and early morning. May be active during the day.

Social Groups
Solitary, except during the mating period

Diet
Termites, ants, larvae of beetles and moths

Predators
Not well studied.
Of adults: dingoes, Tasmanian devils, and humans; possibly domestic dogs and foxes
Of young and juveniles: large lizards, snakes, feral cats, foxes, and pigs

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity
In the wild: minimum of 5 years of age (Kangaroo Island)
In captivity: minimum of 3 years of age

Gestation
~21-22 days

Litter Size
1

Interbirth Interval
Annual breeding cycle. However, females may only successfully wean one young every 4-6 years.

Birth Weight
0.3-2.0 g (0.05-0.07 oz)

Age at Weaning
Varies by location, 140-210 days

Longevity
In the wild: estimated to be 30-50 years
In captivity: up to 50 years

Feature Facts

  • One of the only egg-laying mammals (along with the platypus and the long-beaked echidnas)
  • Remarkably strong for their body size (can move objects as heavy as a refrigerator!); excellent climbers; in captivity, echidnas are known as “escape artists”
  • Claws on the back feet are used as combs to groom between spines; hindfeet are rotated outwards
  • Able to extrude their long, sticky, agile tongue 18 cm (7 in)
  • Exceptionally long-lived for their body size
  • Lowest metabolism of any mammal
  • Can survive wildfires by burrowing, dropping their body temperature, and slowing their metabolism
  • During hibernation, their body temperature drops to 8-10°C (46-50°F) and their heart rate may drop to four beats per minute
  • One of only two kinds of mammals known to hibernate while pregnant (the other is the bat)
  • Males have a penis structure unlike any other mammal
  • Keratin layer that covers an echidna’s eyes provides protection from ant bites and while burrowing
  • Can sense electric fields with their snout
  • Use their snout like a snorkel, while swimming

About This Fact Sheet

For detailed information, click the tabs at the top of this page.

 

© 2017 San Diego Zoo Global.

 

How to cite: Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) Fact Sheet. c2017. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/short-beaked-echidna.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)

 

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to library@sandiegozoo.org.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Dr. Stewart C. Nicol for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.

Dr. Nicol is Professor and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. Since the 1980s, he has conducted field and laboratory research on the ecophysiology of monotremes (echidnas, platypus). Dr. Nicol has published extensively on many aspects of echidna biology, including physiology, diet, communication, reproduction, breeding behavior, anatomy, and evolution.

Learn more about Dr. Nicol’s research and career:

Australian Academy of Science

University of Tasmania

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