I asked folks to guess the animal's identity, and I have to say, I was really impressed at how many people guessed correctly in the comments section on the blog as well as on my Facebook and Twitter pages.
The animal is an echidna. A short-beaked echinda to be exact. Along with the long-beaked echidna and the platypus, this animal belongs to the group of mammals called monotremes. Unlike every other mammal species, the monotremes don't give birth to babies, but rather lay eggs like birds or reptiles.
Here are some other odd facts about echidnas:
- Like many other mammals native to Australia, echinda babies start out life nursing in their mother's pouch -- but only after they've hatched out of their eggs.
- Although they have spines that look very similar to those of hedgehogs or porcupines, echindas are not closely related to either.
- Also known as the "spiny anteater," echidas do indeed feed on ants and other insects. They are not however related to the true anteaters of South and Central America.
- Both the echidna's spines and insect-eating habits are examples of convergent evolution, where completely unrelated species evolve similar characteristic and behaviors in order to survive.
- Like their fellow monotreme the platypus, short-beaked echidnas do have pointy spurs on their back feet. Unlike platypuses, echidna spurs are not venomous.
- Echidnas are long-lived and can live to be 50 years old.