Backyard Buddies

Photo: J Yurasek/OEH


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Echidnas are most active in the lead-up to their winter mating period, so if you live in an area with lots of native bush nearby, you may have a small spiny visitor.

Echidnas are the oldest mammals alive today. They live all over Australia and are able to survive in a wide variety of habitats and temperatures. They are covered all over with strong and sharp spines, their only defence mechanism against predators. The spines are made of keratin, the same substance that our fingernails are made of.

They mostly eat ants and termites but also eat larvae of the Scarab beetle, as well as other adult beetles and earthworms.

Echidnas live solitary lives but in breeding season, the female is suddenly very popular and up to 10 males will start to follow her around. This courtship can last up to a month, at which time the female will make her choice from the remaining males. The female lays an egg in her pouch for 10 days before hatching a "puggle" - a baby echidna.

The female echidna doesn't feed her baby through nipples, but instead has milk patches inside her pouch. These patches are made up of pores which secrete the milk onto specialized hair follicles which the puggle can suck the milk from.

Unlike many other native animals, Echidnas are relatively unafraid of people and can pop up in the most unexpected places.

In suburban Melbourne, for example, echidnas have been spotted walking through the door of a post office, asleep under a parked car, and attempting to cross a freeway.

There has been a big effort in recent years to re-vegetate parts of cities, particularly along water courses and creek lines. These new green belts have attracted Echidnas. They are mostly active during the day but as the cool evenings draw in they seek shelter.

If you do come across an echidna, don't assume it is lost. In cities, their biggest enemies are dogs and cats, so these should always be locked up or kept well away until the echidna has moved on. Unless it is actually injured, don't be tempted to pick it up or move it to another location. It may have a hungry baby in a burrow nearby which is waiting for it to return. Young Echidnas will remain with their mother in the nest for up to a year, only making their first appearance around spring time.

If you do need to pick an echidna up, for example to remove it from a road, make sure you set it down in the direction it was already heading.

If you find any injured wild animal, it's best to call a local wildlife rescue service for advice.

Did you know?

If you've ever tried to do a good deed and help an Echidna get off the road, you'll know just how sharp and strong their spines are. The spines deter predators such as dingoes but also come in handy for securing the echidna in its hiding place.

Echidnas can extend their spines, allowing them to wedge themselves firmly into a rock crevice or hollow log and making it virtually impossible for a predator to extract them.

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”Birds, bugs, lizards and penguins are my favourite Backyard Buddies – I like to find, watch and learn about what they do and what I can do to help them.“

Gus – 11 year old Backyard Buddy, NSW

Photo: OEH