Stop whatever you're doing and go check out this baby short-beaked echidna—also known as a "puggle"! She was born last year at Taronga Zoo Sydney as part of its "backyard to bush" breeding program. She's so cute—That snout! Those claws! Those pricklies! You can see her doing what she does best—digging, foraging for food, and breaking apart logs. So, what's an echidna? PBS describes them:
Echidnas are one of only three monotremes, egg-laying mammals that drink milk, in the world. Aside from the echidna species, the only other monotreme species is the duck-billed platypus.
There are four species of echidna: the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), the Sir David's long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), the eastern long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni), and the western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii).
Their conservation status varies depending on the species. Sir David's long-beaked echidna and the western long-beaked echidna are both listed as critically endangered with populations declining. The eastern long-beaked echidna is listed as vulnerable. Their current population size is estimated to be around 10,000 mature individuals, but this number is likely declining. The IUCN categorizes the short-beaked echidna as a species of Least Concern.
The Government of South Australia provides more facts about echidnas—some of which are just wild! (1) Their spines are actually hairs. (2) They have different colored spines depending on where they live. (3) During breeding season, they form "echidna trains"—which are, yes, exactly what you're imagining. GSA explains:
From mid-May to early September, male echidnas actively seek out females to mate.
They form a line known as an 'echidna train', with the female leading the 'train', followed by up to ten males. A smaller, younger male is often at the rear of the line.
The male suitors follow the female for long distances until the female is ready to mate.
She then lies relaxed and flat on her stomach and the males that formed the 'train' dig a circular trench around her. Eventually the largest male pushes the competing rivals out of this 'mating rut'.
He then digs more dirt out from the spot where the female's tail is resting, lies on his side and places his tail under hers, and they mate.
Ready for even more? (4) Male echidnas have a four-headed penis. (5) Echidnas lay eggs. (6) They don't have any teeth, but instead they have long sticky tongues that they use kind of like anteaters do, to slurp up ants, worms, and more. (7) Finally, they are excellent diggers. As GSA explains, "The claws on an echidna's hind limbs are curved backwards to help them dig, which is another way they help protect themselves from danger as they can dig their way out of trouble."