Creatures Young and Old
The Echidna and the Platypus
The echidna and the platypus are two wonderfully weird mammals. Just like us, they have hair and feed their young milk. But they do something other mammals don’t. The females lay eggs! Egg-laying mammals are called monotremes. And when those eggs hatch, the babies, called puggles, look similar. That fact inspired me to write Two Puggles.
New research published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology found that the oldest-known monotreme is Teinolophos trusleri, which lived about 126 million years ago in polar forests, when Victoria was close to the South Pole and dinosaurs were still alive. It was tiny, no more than 40 grams in weight, so only a little bit bigger than a mouse. It probably used electro-sensors in its snout, just like the echidna and platypus, to hunt for prey. In contrast, the biggest monotreme, the extinct echidna Murrayglossus hacketti, was about 30 kilograms, as big as a wombat. It lived during the Late Pleistocene, 100,000 years ago, in southwestern Western Australia, and could have stood on its back legs to feed on ant and termite nests, including those in trees.
The echidna, which lives throughout Australia and New Guinea, and the platypus, which only lives in eastern Australia, are the only surviving monotremes. Both animals are vulnerable to degradation of their natural habitats.
Echidnas like to keep to themselves so there is a lot we don’t know about them. Citizen scientists can help by using EchidnaCSI to report sightings of the Australian short-beaked echidna and can even collect and mail in echidna scats (i.e. poo) for molecular analysis.
The platypus is currently listed as endangered in South Australia and vulnerable in Victoria. Citizen scientists can help by reporting sightings using platypusSPOT, platy-project, iNaturalistAU or BioCollect.