Echidna Breeding Success

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A precious, prickly new arrival made its first public appearance at Perth Zoo today.

The echidna puggle, the latest breeding success at the Zoo, was given a quick weigh and inspection by keepers, before being placed back in its nursery burrow where it will spend the next two to three months.

The youngster weighed in at 526 grams and will continue to grow over the next three to four years before reaching the normal adult weight of around 4 kg.

The puggle, named Kai (Nyoongar for surprise), weighed less than one gram when it hatched in September and spent the first two months of its life in its mother’s pouch.

“Once the puggle’s spines started to emerge the mother deposited it in the nursery burrow,” Perth Zoo’s Australian Fauna Supervisor Arthur Ferguson said.

The sixth Short-beaked Echidna born at Perth Zoo since 2007, Kai is progressing very well under the care of experienced mother Elyan.

“Once Kai leaves the nursery burrow, we will take a couple of small hairs for DNA sexing,” Mr Ferguson said “The previous five echidnas born at Perth Zoo were all females, so we are hoping that Kai is a male.”

Echidnas are very difficult to breed in captivity. Perth Zoo began studying their secretive breeding habits and reproductive biology a few years ago.

Only 17 echidnas have been born in captivity in Australia and Perth Zoo is proud to have produced six of them.

“Temperature plays an important role in many stages in the echidna’s breeding cycle from producing the egg and incubating it, to keeping the puggle safe in a burrow and developing well,” Mr Ferguson said.

The work undertaken with Short-beaked Echidnas may also help in conserving its endangered cousins, the Long-beaked Echidnas, which are facing extinction in the wild.

Perth Zoo’s research provides a solid foundation for a captive breeding program to be established for Long-beaked Echidnas if required.

Long-beaked Echidnas, found only in New Guinea, have never been bred in captivity. The Short-beaked Echidna is found in Australia, New Guinea and some off-shore islands.

Media contact: Deb Read 9474 0383 or 0438 950 643

Background Information

  • Males are not involved in the care of the young and leave the female to incubate the egg and raise the puggle on their own after mating.
  • A mother echidna incubates a single egg for about 11 days before it hatches. The puggle weighs less than one gram when it hatches. The puggle is then carried around in its mother’s pouch for two months before being deposited in a nursery burrow.
  • Once deposited in the burrow, the puggle is left alone. The mother backfills the burrow and blocks up the entrance to stop the puggle crawling out. The mother returns every two-to-five days to feed it.
  • There are five species of monotremes (the name given to mammals that lay eggs) alive on earth today – the well known Platypus and Short-beaked Echidna, and the three Long-beaked Echidna species found only in New Guinea.
  • The largest monotreme to have ever lived was the now extinct Giant Echidna Zaglossus hackettii. It is known only from a few bones discovered in a cave in Western Australia and is believed to have weighed up to 30kg.
  • Short-beaked Echidnas are insectivores, feeding exclusively on invertebrates, predominantly termites and ants.
  • Short-beaked Echidnas are covered with long, brown-black and golden spines. Under the spines, the echidna’s body is covered with fur. Its long tubular and toothless snout is naked. The tongue is long and sticky and is around 18cm long.
  • Their spiny coat provides an excellent defence (each spine is formed from a single hair). When disturbed, echidnas curl into a spiky ball and when attacked they can dig very quickly and bury themselves in the soil.
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