In Search of the Wily Echidna

by Dave on September 20, 2009

LAUNCESTON - When we planned this trip, we each choose a destination. Robin choose Australia, in large part, because of the animals. I agreed because I want to meet Nicole Kidman.  

I’d like to say that Robin is under some wholesome influence, like watching endless re-runs of “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” and National Geographic Specials. But it’s largely due to Sonic, the Hedgehog, or more precisely, his colleague, Knuckle the Echidna. (how much did we pay for the air tickets?) In any case, sighting a living breathing echidna has been our primary focus in our first two weeks. Given our success yesterday, I’ll start looking for Nicole Kidman next week. 

First, a word about monotremes. Monotremes are an order of mammals that include only two major families of animals – the duck-billed platypus and the echidna. Apologies if I just got this wrong – apparently, biologists are still having knife fights over the classifications. All you really want to know is that monotremes are the only mammals that hatch their children from eggs (despite what you may think about your friends’ children).  

Interestingly, platypus and echidna offspring are called puggles. God knows what they call a herd of monotremes, but it must be equally cute. 

As I write, Robin is reading off some interesting echidna facts. Echidnas 

  • Look like a cross between anteaters and hedgehogs, although are unrelated to either
  • Traps ants by laying on anthills with their tongues out (smart AND lazy)
  • Hibernates for 6-8 weeks in the winter
  • A 3kg echidna can eat 200 grams of ants in 10 minutes

 Our first attempt at echidna viewing was Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. It was an excellent place to spend a day, have your photo taken with a koala, and generally get to know Australian wildlife. Although we saw a  live platypus there, echidnas were harder to locate.  

After three or four visits to the echidna enclosures through the day, there was nary an echidna to be found. 

The next day, we tried the Australian Museum with some limited success. Echidna? Yes! A live echidna? No …. Apparently, the Museum’s exhibit designers love taxidermy and it all felt like the Mounted Animal Nature Trail. Stuffed echidna, stuffed koala, five varieties of stuffed kangeroos … 

Sunday In Sydney 

The gift shop was marginally better – Robin got himself one of these: 

Sunday In Sydney 

Fast forward to this week. On Tuesday, Annalise claimed to have spotted an echidna ins a field from a moving car. Robin and I scoffed, thinking that any self-respecting echidna wouldn’t be caught dead in a field. They’re endangered, right? And they’re so tiny, right? Moving car? Whatever … 

Tasmania Week 1 011 

Thursday, we sought professional help at Platypus House in Beauty Bay, Tasmania. Home to several live platypus (whatever …) and a some live echidnas (now we’re talking monotremes), Platypus House guarantees a showing, so we plunged in, credit card in hand. Personally, I’m cynical about things like this, but my heart melted when those echidnas boldly marched up and started licking our shoes with their 18 cm long tongues. (Apparently, they’re capable of 100 licks per minute.) 

Tasmania Week 1 050 

As it turns out, Tasmanian echidnas aren’t endangered. They like fields – the fence-posts contain the termites they eat. And they’re a lot bigger that you might think – easy spotting in a field, even from a moving car. 

I wonder if Annalise will help me find Nicole Kidman?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Liz R. September 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I believe that Nicole Kidman was forced to leave Australia after being psychologically scarred by an unfortunate childhood encounter that involved being licked 100 times a minute by something with an 18″ long tongue. Sorry, Dave – bad luck there.

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