Tuesday 18 June
Eastern long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni)
Eastern long-beaked echidna fact file
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Eastern long-beaked echidna description
A rare and curious animal, the eastern long-beaked echidna belongs to an incredibly distinct group of mammals, the monotremes. Like all mammals, the monotremes (the echidnas and the platypus), have fur and produce milk to nourish their young, but uniquely, these mammals lay eggs rather than giving birth to live young (4). The eastern long-beaked echidna looks somewhat like a hedgehog with its spine-covered body, but its long, tubular, down-curved snout makes it highly distinctive (4). The spines, which are usually light coloured, protrude from a thick fur coat that varies from shades of light brown to black (4) (5). The fur also covers the head, legs and underside, where spines are absent (4). The eastern long-beaked echidna has small, bulging eyes and fairly large ear openings, which are hidden amongst the spines (4). The long, naked snout, which has relatively large nostrils at the tip, houses a long tongue. It is the tongue which gives this species its genus name; in Latin the words za and glossus mean great and tongue respectively (5). Male eastern long-beaked echidnas can be distinguished from females by the presence of a horny spur on the hindleg (4). This echidna and the western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii) were once considered to be the same species, but have recently been separated, largely based on the presence of five claws on the front foot of the eastern long-beaked echidna, whilst the western long-beaked echidna has less than five claws (5).Top
Eastern long-beaked echidna biology
A generally solitary animal, the eastern long-beaked echidna is a highly specialised feeder (4), with a diet consisting primarily of earthworms (1), which is an abundant food source in the humid forests it inhabits (5). The eastern long-beaked echidna has a well-developed sense of smell, which it uses to detect its prey as it roots around in the leaf litter and undergrowth with its probing snout (4). As the eastern long-beaked echidna is rarely found foraging in the daylight (2), it is easy to understand why both hearing and smell are more important than vision when searching for food or perceiving danger (4). When an earthworm is found, the echidna quickly takes it with its long, thin, flexible tongue which is covered in a sticky secretion (4). The echidna does not have teeth and instead mashes the food between horny spines at the back of the tongue and the roof of the mouth (5).
The eastern long-nosed echidna has a large home range, varying between 10 and 168 hectares (2). A powerful digger, the echidna digs burrows in which to shelter (4), which can be up to 4.9 metres in length and situated up to 0.57 metres below the soil surface (2). When threatened, it may use its powerful limbs and spines to wedge itself into a hollow log or a crevice in a rock, or can curl up into a ball so that only its spines are showing (4).
Female echidnas develop a temporary pouch on the abdomen during the breeding season, into which a single egg is laid. After hatching, the spineless young will remain in the pouch for six to eight weeks, feeding on the thick milk from its mother’s mammary glands. The young will then be placed in a sheltered site, and visited regularly by the mother (6). The eastern long-beaked echidna is a long lived species, with one captive individual in London Zoo known to have lived for 30 years (1).Top
Eastern long-beaked echidna range
The eastern long-beaked echidna occurs on the island of New Guinea (Indonesia and Papua New Guinea). Historically, it was found from sea level up to 4,150 metres, but today it has a patchy distribution and is only found in the high mountains of central New Guinea, the Huon Peninsula, and the Foja Mountains (1).Top
Eastern long-beaked echidna habitat
Tropical and sub-alpine forests, grasslands and scrub land are all suitable habitat for the eastern long-beaked echidna (1).Top
Eastern long-beaked echidna statusTop
Eastern long-beaked echidna threats
Intensive hunting, undertaken by local people for food, combined with a loss of habitat due to the conversion of suitable land for cultivation, has pushed the eastern long-beaked echidna into a precarious position (1). Now classified as Critically Endangered, the key populations of this species are now restricted to the highest parts of New Guinea’s mountains (1). Further threats may arise in the future as a proposed nickel mine, to be built in the next 10 to 15 years, will lie in an area which is home to an important population of this species (1).Top
Eastern long-beaked echidna conservation
Few conservation measures are currently in place to protect this highly threatened species. It has been recorded from a few protected areas (1), and is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which means that any international trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3). Further measures are certainly needed, such as hunting regulations and field studies to identify areas in which this species occurs, for which protection is critical (1).Top
Find out more
To learn about efforts to conserve long-beaked echidnas see:
EDGE of Existence:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
- Opiang, M.D. (2009) Home ranges, movement, and den use in long-beaked echidnas, Zaglossus bartoni, from Papua New Guinea. Journal of Mammalogy, 90(2): 340-346.
CITES (October, 2009)
- Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Augee, M., Gooden, B. and Musser, A. (2006) Echidna: Extraordinary Egg-Laying Mammal. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia.
- Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimoreand London.
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