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A prickly story

February 16, 2020

Just after we put a post about Short-beaked Echidnas on this blog in early January, we discovered an echidna burrow with a puggle (young) in it only 30m from our house, and the adult featured in that post was most likely the mother. We only located the burrow when we noticed a small patch on an old pile of top-soil was moving up and down, as if it were “breathing”. When a bit of soil was brushed away, a creature with short sharp spines was revealed.

Puggle being fed

Puggle’s first outing

After setting up a remote camera, we were able to record the comings and goings of the mother over the next month or so, and occasionally watch her during the daytime. Her visits to the burrow were an average of 4 days apart (maximum of 7 days), and after uncovering the entrance and getting in with the puggle, she spent an average of 2 hours feeding it, before packing the entrance with soil and heading off to forage for ants and termites. With such intermittent feeding the echidna milk is necessarily very rich (imagine being fed only once a week!) and the puggle ingests up to 20% of its body weight.

When first discovered the puggle was probably about 4 – 5 months old, and is now almost fully spined and getting ready to leave the nest. In fact a few days ago we watched as the young one appeared and ventured off on its first little jaunt. It’s a bit wobbly on its pins, but a capable digger and very attuned to sounds and smells, immediately becoming a partially buried prickly ball when feeling threatened.

It eventually made its way back to the burrow and during its mother’s next visit we were able to sneak up and record the repetitive rasping sound of the puggle suckling on its mother’s milk patch (click audio below) as they lay only partially-buried beside each other.

There is limited knowledge and conflicting reports on echidna weaning. One reference has the young not weaned until about 7 months old after which mother and offspring may continue to share shelter sites and forage together until the puggle is 9 – 12 months old. Another reference states the mother has no further contact with her offspring after weaning it at about 6 months in mid-January to the end of February.

If the latter is the case, we can only hope our puggle’s natural curiosity is sufficient to let it find food and survive out in the big wide world, without heading onto the road!

More photos below:

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