echidna (ĭkĭdˈnə) [key] or spiny anteater, animal of the order Monotremata, the egg-laying mammals. A short-legged, grayish brown animal, the echidna is covered with sharp quills and can protect itself by rolling into a tight bristly ball. It may reach 18 in. (46 cm) in length. Padded soles and stout claws make it a clumsy walker but a strong and rapid burrower. The echidna has only a rudimentary tail and lacks both external ears and teeth. With its sensitive muzzle and long sticky tongue it probes for ants and termites. It is nocturnal and hibernates in winter. There are two genera and several species of echidna; all are native to the sandy and rocky areas of New Guinea, E Australia, and Tasmania. Females produce one or two eggs, which are deposited in a rudimentary marsupial pouch. The newly hatched young remain in the pouch, feeding on a milky fluid, until their spines begin to grow. Echidnas are not closely related to true anteaters, which are higher mammals. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Monotremata.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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