Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

How to Breed Echidnas

By Stephen Luntz

Andrea Wallage is discovering what makes an echidna frisky in preparation for efforts to save the endangered long-beaked species.

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Like many zoologists, Andrea Wallage says she planned to become a vet as a child. “I always wanted to work with animals,” she explains. However, she says the choice to do animal science has meant she now works with far more interesting species. After all, how many suburban vets get to learn what makes echidnas happy?

Squashed echidnas may be a tragic sight by Australian roadways, but the local short-beaked species is not endangered. “They thrive in every ecosystem in Australia, from Mt Kosciusko to the deserts and from Tasmania to the wet tropics,” says Wallage. The same cannot be said in New Guinea, where three species of long-beaked echidna are all critically endangered.

“The long-beaked echidna is larger than the short-beaked species. They can weigh up to 17 kg and are hunted as a food source,” says Wallage.

“It is common when working with critically endangered species to first study a more common species. If you don’t know what you are doing you can make things worse rather than better,” says Wallage.

This is indeed the case with the echidna. “It was only a few years ago that it was thought to be almost impossible to breed echidnas in captivity, and most births were somewhat accidental and unplanned,” says Dr Steve Johnston of the University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences. However, Wallage and Johnston have helped...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.