AskDefine | Define echidna

Dictionary Definition



1 New Guinea echidnas [syn: spiny anteater, anteater]
2 burrowing spine-covered monotreme of Australia having a long snout and claws for hunting ants and termites [syn: spiny anteater, anteater] [also: echidnae (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary


  • /ʔə'kɪdnʌ/
  • //


Latin, from Greek εχίνος (ekhinos) ‘hedgehog’.


  1. Any of the four species of small spined monotremes, also known as a spiny anteaters, found in Australia and southern New Guinea.


Proper noun

  1. A Greek myth

Extensive Definition

Echidnas (), also known as spiny anteaters, are four extant mammal species belonging to the Tachyglossidae family of the monotremes. Together with the Platypus, they are the only surviving members of that order. Although their diet consists largely of ants and termites, they are not actually related to the anteater species. They live in New Guinea and Australia. The echidnas are named after a monster in ancient Greek mythology.


Echidnas are small mammals that are covered with coarse hair and spines. Superficially they resemble the anteaters of South America, and other spiny mammals like hedgehogs and porcupines. They have snouts which have the functions of both the mouth and nose. Their snouts are elongated and slender. They have very short, strong limbs with large claws and are powerful diggers. Echidnas have a tiny mouth and a toothless jaw. They feed by tearing open soft logs, anthills and the like, and use their long, sticky tongue which protrudes from their snout to collect their prey. The Short-beaked Echidna's diet consists largely of ants and termites, while the Zaglossus species typically eat worms and insect larvae.
The long-beaked echidnas have tiny spines on their tongues that helps capture its meals.
Echidnas and the Platypus are the only egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes. The female lays a single soft-shelled, leathery egg twenty-two days after mating and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes ten days; the young echidna, called a puggle, then sucks milk from the pores of the two milk patches (monotremes have no nipples) and remains in the pouch for forty-five to fifty-five days, at which time it starts to develop spines. The mother digs a nursery burrow and deposits the puggle, returning every five days to suckle it until it is weaned at seven months.
Male echidnas have a four-headed penis, but only two of the heads are used during mating. The other two heads "shut down" and do not grow in size. The heads used are swapped each time the mammal has sex.


Echidnas are classified into three genera. The Zaglossus genus includes three extant species and two species known only from fossils, while only one species from the genus Tachyglossus is known. The third genus, Megalibgwilia, is only known from fossils.


The three living Zaglossus species are endemic to New Guinea. They are rare and are hunted for food. They forage in leaf litter on the forest floor, eating earthworms and insects. The species are:
The two fossil species are:


The Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is found in southeast New Guinea and also occurs in almost all Australian environments, from the snow-clad Australian Alps to the deep deserts of the Outback, essentially anywhere that ants and termites are available. Its size is smaller than the Zaglossus species, and it has longer hair.


The genus Megalibgwilia is only known from fossils:
  • Megalibgwilia ramsayi from Late Pleistocene sites in Australia
  • Megalibgwilia robusta from Miocene sites in Australia



External links

echidna in Bulgarian: Ехидни
echidna in Catalan: Equidna
echidna in Danish: Myrepindsvin
echidna in German: Ameisenigel
echidna in Spanish: Tachyglossidae
echidna in Esperanto: Ekidno
echidna in Persian: خارپشت بی‌دندان
echidna in French: Échidné
echidna in Korean: 가시두더지
echidna in Indonesian: Echidna
echidna in Ido: Ekidno
echidna in Italian: Tachyglossidae
echidna in Hebrew: קיפודן נמליים
echidna in Dutch: Mierenegels
echidna in Japanese: ハリモグラ
echidna in Norwegian: Maurpinnsvin
echidna in Polish: Kolczatka australijska
echidna in Portuguese: Equidna
echidna in Romanian: Echidnă
echidna in Russian: Ехидны
echidna in Slovenian: Kljunati ježek
echidna in Finnish: Nokkasiilit
echidna in Swedish: Myrpiggsvin
echidna in Thai: อีคิดนา
echidna in Turkish: Dikenli karıncayiyengiller
echidna in Ukrainian: Єхидна (тварина)
echidna in Chinese: 针鼹科
echidna in Contenese: 針鼴
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