How very special our natural history is.
The Echidna has been known by quite a few names; spiny ant-eater, porcupine, even hedgehog! Its real name is Echidna acubata. Oddly enough it is a cousin to the equally weird platypus. This intriguing creature lays eggs (usually two), and the babies, known as puggles, are carried in their mother’s pouch. It is toothless, but look at that fantastic, sticky tongue, just perfect for licking up its favourite food…ANTS!
There was an urban myth in the old days that the echidna could fire its spines like arrows, as a defense mechanism.
I must thank the wonderful National Library archive TROVE for these funny lines directed to a mother echidna;
WHAT AM I?
Mother echidnas are sometimes neglectful in providing a sense of identity for their offspring. When a little echidna starts school it has to find the answer to something very important. It’s like solving a riddle; ‘Hmm, I was carried in my mother’s pouch, but I’m not a kangaroo. I popped out of an egg, but I’m not a chicken. I drank my mum’s milk, but I’m not a baby cow. What am I?’
Echidnas often risk life and limb by trundling across the road. When you try to remove them they protectively curl themselves into a ball, like a hedgehog. You can (very) carefully roll them off into the bush.
I have never seen an echidna here in the Blue Mountains. However, a particularly large specimen was found in Katoomba a few years ago. For some reason it was sent down to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. How dare they!
One of my favourite Blackheath cafes, Altitude, has a series of carved wall panels that features an echidna. The talented artist is Robert Keen, from Wagga Wagga..
In the past, members of the public were inclined to keep our native animals as pets. It was a really bad idea, as they had no idea how to care for them. Mind you, I must admit that the pair in this old illustration do look cute having their breakfast
Where I grew up in Tasmania echidnas were very common, and thankfully they still are. I remember being fascinated at seeing one embedded in our front lawn. Naturally, being interfering young devils, we tried to get it out. We had no success whatsoever. It wandered off that night in the cover of darkness. An article in The Weekly Times in 1947 shows that there were many such indignities inflicted by children. A little girl called Denise won five shillings for her story of a semi-successful capture;
I managed to roll him into an old kerosene tine. He was very hard to move, as he rolled into a ball and was easily as heavy as a stump. I carried the tin home and placed him in half a kerosene drum of sand. It did not take him very long to reach the bottom, because we could hear him clawing there.
My plan was to take him to school next day before releasing him, but to my misfortune Mr Porcupine had climbed out and gone. The only tracks I saw were where he had tried to scratch under the tankstand. Anyway, good luck to him.
Good luck to him indeed!
One resident of our town (Ulverstone) got a bit of a fright due to an echidna. About to feed his cow, he put his hand into a chaff bag and was ‘bitten’ on every finger, plus his thumb. For a few dreadful moments he thought he had disturbed a nest of snakes and was very relieved when his son emptied the bag and the spikey little creature fell out.
The poor old bloke in the cartoon below is about to be ‘bitten on the bum’ and I suspect the naughty kids would have had sore bottoms afterwards too.
No doubt echidnas are frightened by snakes too. The one pictured below seems to have got itself into a right pickle. I’m delighted to report that it burrowed down and escaped a horrible end.
To the Australian Aborigines, echidna meat was a prized delicacy;
Taronga Zoo is a more boring place to live than in the wild, but as safe as can be. Perfect…. if you don’t mind gawping humans.
On a final note, I’m delighted that the echidna appears to have a very high profile in my old home of Tasmania. This one had to be rescued from a lake, and hit the headlines.
Curl up in your own little bubble sweet echidna, just as the rest of us are doing. I wish I had your inbuilt distancing apparatus.
I must thank fellow Blue Mountains resident Tracy Burgess for the following photo of an echidna ‘courting train’ on the move. Tracy is one of our wonderful volunteers from WIRES, the wildlife rescue organization. A number of males pursue a female and the most persistent chap wins! The mating season is from around July until September. Now Tracy says that echidnas are actually very common up here, particularly around my own village of Blackheath. I must get out more.
This delightful video was taken at Taronga Zoo. Sweet little puggles.
You can even have one of your own. A velvety bag of happiness.
POSTSCRIPT – After I published this story, Sabina Anderson shared a wonderful experience she had with a ‘lost’ puggle.