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Spiny balls of fluff – Echidnas at Cradle Mountain

22 February 2011 No Comment

Echidna - Cradle Mountain National ParkDo you know what those spiky little fur balls you see snuffling about at Cradle Mountain National Park might be?

They are echidnas – but not your common garden variety, because the echidnas at Cradle Mountain are different from their mainland cousins.

Every part of an echidna is covered with creamy coloured spines, except their face and their squat little legs.  And because spines would not keep even the fattest echidna warm in winter, they also have a lovely coat of warm, soft fur.

Cradle Mountain echidnas are different because their fur is much thicker and longer than echidnas in the warmer states of Australia, making them look more like balls of fluff than balls of spines.  Their thick, long fur means they can live in Tasmania’s colder mountain areas right throughout the year, which almost guarantees you will see an echidna whatever time of year you visit Cradle Mountain.

Echidnas are shy little mammals, even with their coat of spines, but they won’t run away if you walk quietly up to them for that great close-up photo.   Don’t get too close, or you might also get a photo of, and maybe a bite from, what makes echidnas itch – the world’s largest flea!

Echidnas love to eat ants and termites – they used to be called spiny ant eaters – but they don’t say no to tasty treats like grubs and worms.  They quickly lick up their dinner, and a lot of soil, with their long, sticky tongue, so their droppings look like little tubes of dirt squeezed out like toothpaste.

Echidnas lay eggs!  Their babies hatch with no spines or fur, then hang around in their mum’s pouch for 3 months, drinking pink, iron-rich milk and growing spines.  When they get too prickly they leave the pouch and spend the next 49 years eating ants and sleeping in warm burrows they dig in the soft earth.

Cradle Mountain echidnas are lovely little monotremes, so keep an eye out for them as they slowly walk along, rolling from side to side, either beside the roads, on the open heath in front of the Discovery Holiday Park, or on the little meadow at the end of the Enchanted Walk near Cradle Mountain Lodge .

Image – Matthias Siegel – Matt Down Under

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