Kangaroo Island is a haven of wildlife, drawing in animal lovers from all over the world. Across the expansive sprawl of lush rainforest and pristine beaches there are hundreds of different species, ranging from colourful bird life to native critters like kangaroos, koalas, and wallabies.
One of the lesser-known species here is the echidna, a little animal that looks very much like a hedgehog. It has a long snout and porcupine-like spines and can be found snuffling through the undergrowth on the island.
These days, echidnas are very much endangered. This is mostly because they are prime hunting fodder in their native home of New Guinea, despite their very unappetizing spikes.
The echidnas you will find on Kangaroo Island have strong front limbs and sharp claws, which are perfect for burrowing underground quickly. As they spend a lot of time beneath the ground, they have a high tolerance of carbon dioxide and low levels of oxygen. To repel predators, they curl up into a tight ball which deters their foe thanks to their sharp, vicious-looking spikes.
You’ll mostly see echidnas out and about at dusk or after dark as they don’t deal with the heat well. They aren’t able to sweat, but they can swim if they need to.
And the Kangaroo Island echidna is a hibernating species. During the winter months, it hides underground and reduces its metabolism to save energy. When the temperature starts to rise again after winter, they emerge above ground to mate.
As a general rule, the females of the species lay on egg every year after a short mating period. This window is vital for echidnas to meet someone of the opposite sex, because they are otherwise solitary creatures who live alone for the rest of the year.
When the babies are born, the males have nothing more to do with them.
The babies themselves are about the size of a grape, but they grow very quickly thanks to their mother’s powerful and nutrient-rich milk. Once the baby echidna is too large and spiky for the mum’s pouch – usually at around six months old – they leave the burrow and no longer have any contact with their mothers.
These weird and wonderful creatures are a key part of the natural life on Kangaroo Island, and share many similarities with their fellow island residents – especially the pouch for keeping the baby safe in its first few months of life.