Tuesday, February 8, 2011

As intelligent as cats, eat termites and lay eggs

It's not everyday I see an echidna, but today I saw two. One was on the track to the beach, feasting on ants; and the other was in our back yard, using its armour of spikes to deter our two shepherds.

When it's time to mate, echidnas form ' trains' of up to 10 males following one female in season. We've seen these ' trains' on Phillip Island as well as in Mitchell, Queensland. Echidnas lay eggs, keep their puggle (baby) in a fold of the mother's belly flesh, and feed it milk -- but not through a nipple. The milk seeps from the mothers echidna's chest.

As monotremes, echidnas are regarded as the most primitive of mammals, yet have one of the largest and most complex brains, performing well in standard intelligence tests. Unlike other mammals, however, echidnas don't move their eyeballs when they sleep; don't use dreaming to process memories and new experiences. The echidna's complex brain gives it the ability to deal with past and present realities without the need for dreaming.

Several friends in Mitchell have echidnas living beneath their houses to control termites, which are a serious timber-eating pest. These people don't need to use dangerous chemical sprays because echidnas perform the role of natural pest control -- to perfection!

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