Saturday, July 2, 2011

Life in the slow lane: echidnas along the Maranoa

The river red gums bordering the Maranoa River tower over the smaller, dense shrubs and grasses that support a rich and varied number of insects, birds and animals. Often I hear the thump of a wallaby in the undergrowth; less frequently I catch sight of an echidna.

Today I saw an echidna foraging for ants and termites as the last rays of sunshine lit up the foliage bordering the river. Sunlight captured its multi-coloured quills as it dug its way beneath the rich river loam.

This extraordinary egg-laying mammal (called a monotreme) is a living fossil whose relatives were walking the Earth over 100 million years ago. Like the platypus, it's a mammal that lays eggs, and like all mammals, it has fur and produces milk.

Masters of their environment, echidnas march on through the ages, surviving all manner of climate change and other interference to their environment.

It's pleasing to me, knowing that echidnas live along the Maranoa River in Mitchell, outback Queensland; and also in the coastal vegetation on Phillip Island -- our other home.

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