Where the weird things are: Antipodean marvel with spiky ways

It's primary school stuff: mammals give birth to babies; birds lay eggs. Except that this particular mammal – also known as the spiny anteater – lays a big, rubbery whopper. Clearly it had its head in an ant hill when the rules were read out. Or perhaps, like many Australian creatures, it was simply being perverse.

Either way, few mammals are odder than an echidna. And it looks weird, too, like an outsized hedgehog with the snout of a clanger.

An aboriginal myth explains the spines: the echidna came into being, apparently, after hunters threw spears into a wombat. Simple. Early scientists, however, were more puzzled by the egg.

It turns out that the echidna is a monotreme, which means "single hole" in Ancient Greek and refers to its bird-like cloaca – a shared orifice for the urinary and excretory tract that is unique to this ancient Australasian order. And monotremes – which also include the equally puzzling platypus –are the world's only egg-laying mammals.

The egg in question hatches after 10 days to produce a tiny, 1.5cm-long baby. This infant is nourished on milk that seeps out on to the mother's under-fur, monotremes having – you guessed it – no nipples.

And there's more weirdness: a darting tongue that winkles termites from rotten wood; legs that stick out sideways like a lizard's; and a body temperature that can fall to 31C – lethally low for any normal mammal.

This is the most common of three echidna species. It is found across Australia, generally in dry, open country with abundant termites. Though largely nocturnal in warmer areas, you might see one by day in the cooler conditions of South Australia or Tasmania. Get too close, though, and it will roll into a spiny ball – or disappear into the ground like a sinking ship, leaving only its spines visible.

* Seek out echidnas – as well as kangaroos, koalas and other Australian specials – on Kangaroo Island in South Australia with Austravel (0800 988 4834; austravel.com) from £1,195. The price includes return flights with Qantas from Heathrow via Singapore to Adelaide, two nights in Adelaide, and three days' self-drive tour of Kangaroo Island with two nights' accommodation, car hire and Seacat transfers. Wildlife guides can be hired separately. Based on June departure.

Mike Unwin is the author of 100 Bizarre Animals, published by Bradt Travel Guides (£16.99). Readers of The Independent can buy the book for only £11.50 including UK p&p at bradt-guides.com. Enter coupon code "mudskipper" at the checkout.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate