Long-beaked echidnas are egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes, a group that also includes the duck-billed platypus and the short-beaked echidna (4). The taxonomy of long-beaked echidnas has been contentious but currently three species are recognised: Zaglossus bruijnii, Z. bartoni (composed of 4 distinct subspecies) and Z. attenboroughi (5). Until recently only one species was acknowledged (Z. bruijnii) and as only small morphological differences distinguish this species from Z. bartoni it is difficult to tell individuals apart. In general, Zaglossus spp. have long, downward curving narrow snouts (2). The small mouth and large nostrils are located at the end of the snout and the tongue is long and agile (2). The limbs are powerful, with strong claws that are important in digging for food (6). Males can be distinguished from females by their larger size and the possession of a horny spur on the ankles of the hind limbs (2). The species within this genus range in size from the largest living monotremes at almost a metre long, to the small Zaglossus attenboroughi (5). There is a wide variety of colour and density of fur even within each species, ranging from black individuals in which the spines are barely noticeable, to sparsely haired paler echidnas (5). In general, Z. bruijnii is distinguished by the possession of three claws on the fore and hindfeet, whereas there are five on the forefeet of Z. bartoni and Z. attenboroughi (5). Z. attenboroughi is much smaller than the other species, possessing a shorter beak and shorter fur (5).
- Head-body length: 45 - 90 cm (2)
- 5 - 10 kg (2)