Echidna searching for ants. Overland Track. Tasmania, AUS
How to Track Echidnas
Tracking skills are something that every intrepid camper and nature lover needs to know in order to find their favorite animals for a spot of observation or photography. Echidnas are animals found in Australia (including Tasmania) and New Guinea. They are in the monotreme order, one of the two remaining mammals to give birth by laying an egg rather than live young (the platypus being the the other one). They're solitary animals, and finding one when you're out bushwalking isn't typical, so it helps to know what signs to look for if you're ever in echidna territory.
Location of echidnas
Be in the right place.Obviously, echidnas aren't strolling down the streets of suburbia. They're shy and quiet animals, and their preferred habitat ranges from rainforest, alpine to semi-desert, away from built-up areas. In general, where there are ants and termites in abundance, echidnas may be present too. There are four known species of echidnas:
- The short-beaked echidna (found in Australia and New Guinea); in Australia, they are very adaptable, living from the Simpson Desert through to the Alpine snow.
- The Western long-beaked echidna, Sir David's long-beaked echidna and the Eastern long-beaked echidna (all in New Guinea). (No images at present.)
In some places you'll find road signs indicating echidnas.These are usually posted on the roadside, to warn drivers to slow down and avoid hitting them when crossing the road. This is a good indicator that you're in an area where echidnas might be spotted.
Signs of echidnas in the area
Look for signs of digging up.Wherever you find ant or termite nests, if there are signs of digging around or in the nests, then you have probably located an area where echidnas are.
Check the bark of fallen trees in the area.Echidnas tend to tear off the bark in long strips, usually from logs.
Look for scratchings on the ground.Echidnas that are using the are for finding ants or termites may dig in places other than ant or termite nests. However, they don't only eat ants and termites. They're quite happy to eat other creatures such as earthworms, beetles and moth larvae, so scrounging with their sharp claws may occur anywhere.
If you spot an echidna
Be aware that native wildlife is protected in Australia.Take pictures and observe from afar. Do not try to interfere with the echidna in any way.
- Keep quiet and try not to move too much for fear of alerting the echidna to your presence. Echidnas have been known to lie on ant mounds with their tongues out for hours, trapping ants that walk on the tongue.
- If you're lucky, you might see the echidna seeking out ants or termites, trying to scratch itself, eating or going about its daily doings. If the echidna is bitten by an ant, it will roll over and scratch to try to remove ants.
Watch for the reaction of an aware echidna.The moment an echidna becomes aware of you, or is disturbed by you, it will resort to digging downwards vertically. It will stop when it's half-buried, as it is near impossible to dislodge an echidna so buried (and don't even try).
- Did you know? Echidna babies are called "puggles".
- The adult echidna has few enemies. Young echidnas are sometimes eaten by dingoes, foxes, snakes and goannas.
- Echidnas are sometimes called spiny anteaters. However, they're not related directly to anteaters elsewhere in the world––they're mammals, and that's about as close as the relationship gets!
- If the ambient temperature is cold, the echidna will hibernate for anywhere from a month to six weeks.
- During courtship, males give off a pungent odour. Mating season is in winter, around May to September, depending on local variations.
- If you find a sick or injured echidna, handle it with great care if you're taking it to the vet's. If you need to remove it, dig with your hands away from where it is and gradually get nearer. Wear strong leather gloves to pick up or it a thick towel.Given the excellent climbing ability of echidnas, they need to be kept safe inside something like a cat or dog carrier, lined well with towels. If it's hot, also add ice packs to keep it cool.
Video: Searching for Echidnas
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