Animal of the Month
April 2017

Name: Eastern Long-Beaked Echidna

Class: Mammalia
Order: Monotremata
Suborder: Tachyglossa
Family: Tachyglossidae
Genus: Zaglossus
Species: Z. Bartoni

Size: 23 ½-39 inches
Weight: 11-22 lb

Characteristics: Long, narrow beak, spines and fur growing on back, webbed flipper-like feet
Color(s): Brown head and limbs, spines black with white tips
Behavior: Solitary, nocturnal
Preferred Habitat: Humid forests, digs burrows for shelter.
Range: Scattered parts of New Guinea
Diet: Earthworms
Lifespan: In captivity, up to 30 years


Long ago, the ancient Greeks told of a mythological creature, a terrifying entity that was half-woman and half snake. She was known as the mother of monsters, and her name was Echidna. Today, when the name "echidna" is spoken, it usually refers to an unusual mammal. Though it's not in any way demonic or dangerous, the echidna is the oldest living mammal species, and it does seem like something right out of a legend! The echidna is famous for living in Australia, but there are three echidna species that live in scattered parts of Papua New Guinea. One such species is the eastern long-beaked echidna.

Like its Australian cousins, the eastern long-beaked echidna lives alone and is nocturnal. It uses its sharp claws for digging burrows to live in. It spends its nights foraging humid forests for earthworms. Its eyesight is poor, but its hearing and smell are sharp, which helps it to find food and avoid danger at night. If attacked by a predator, it will back itself into a log or curl up into a spiny ball. The eastern echidna uses its sticky tongue to slurp up earthworms for its meals. It has no teeth, but it does have hooked spines at the back of the tongue and on the roof of the mouth that it uses to mash the worms before swallowing them! The males and females can be easily identified because the males possess a spur on their hind legs, whereas the females do not.

Like the platypus, echidnas are monotremes, or mammals that produce milk for their young but reproduce by laying eggs. During July, the female eastern echidna will produce as many as six eggs a special pouch on her belly. Her eggs will hatch ten days later and the young will live in the pouch for the first six-to-eight weeks of their lives. After that the offspring will be placed in a safe place such as a burrow until they are old enough to live on its own.

Once plentiful across New Guinea, the eastern long-beaked echidna is now critically endangered. It has been overhunted for food, and much of its habitat has been destroyed so the land can be used for farming. Presently the eastern echidna survives in the high mountains of Papua New Guinea. There are also plans to begin nickel mining in these remote places, which may push the echidna even closer to extinction.

Though the threats to the eastern long-beaked echidna are severe, there is hope. This species has been listed on Appendix II of CITES, which closely regulates its international trade. The Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research is also working to track the echidnas with radio collars and to spread awareness to local communities so that the echidnas and their habitat can be protected. There are also other organizations with broader goals of protecting the overall biodiversity of Papua New Guinea that are helping to protect the echidnas.

To learn more about this amazing momotreme and what is being done to save it, check out these awesome pages:

Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research-This organization is dedicated to studying and preserving the biodiversity of Papua New Guinea.

Tenkile Conservation Alliance - A conservation group dedicated to protect the biodiversity and the cultures of Papua New Guinea.

Mongabay: "The Long-beaked Echidna: can we save the earth's oldest living mammal?" - Mongabay is news and information site dedicated to spreading environmental information and awareness. Here they offer a more thorough article about the long-beaked echidna, its threats and what is being done to save it.



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