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Echidnas: Tachyglossidae

Echidnas And People

Echidnas are not as well known as the platypus, but they fascinate naturalists and zoologists for the same reasons: they lay eggs, have a combination of reptilian and mammalian characteristics, and remind us of a time when reptiles were evolving into mammals.


Besides echidnas, several kinds of unrelated mammals that eat mostly ants and termites have evolved in several parts of the world. The others are the anteaters of Central and South America, the aardvark of Africa, the pangolins of Africa and Asia, and the numbat of Australia. Mammals that feast mainly on ants and termites need to be born with certain natural, built-in tools for the job, and all these creatures have them: long, sticky, whiplike tongues that can shoot out of narrow, elongated, tube-shaped snouts; powerful, curved, hooklike claws and heavily muscled limbs for tearing apart termite castles or digging up ant colonies; and powerfully muscled bodies. These animals either have no teeth at all or lose them before they mature (echidnas, New World anteaters, pangolins), lose most of their teeth but keep a few (aardvarks), or seem to be slowly losing their teeth over evolutionary time (numbats).

These ant-eating animals have keen senses of scent and hearing, poor eyesight, and walk clumsily because their long, curved claws slow their gait. They are not diverse. There is only one species of numbat and one of aardvark, two of echidnas, four of New World anteaters, and seven of pangolins. Individual animals of these species lead solitary lives, socialize only to mate, and females nearly always bear and raise one young at a time.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsEchidnas: Tachyglossidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Echidnas And People, Short-beaked Echidna (tachyglossus Aculeatus): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, CONSERVATION STATUS