Animal Diaries Archive
26 January 2007
“Tucker time, tucker time, tucker time” being called by a mammals keeper followed by the banging of two rocks together can only mean one thing at Australia Zoo... it's echidna feeding time! Once the calling starts, our spiky little friends start to emerge from under logs, rocks and mulch to see what delicacies we have brought for them to devour. No doubt you’ll be able to spot our eight-year-old echidna named Fatty in the lead. Fatty is not overweight, as her name suggests, she just loves her food and is always at the dinner table first. A lot of the time she is the last to leave, hence she was dubbed Fatty.
In the wild echidnas are known as myrmecophages (a fancy word for ant and termite specialists). There are 3000 species of ants and approximately 350 species of termites in Australia. Biting ants are normally avoided and the echidna will normal prefer to prey upon larvae, pupae, queen ants and winged males and females, as they are more defenceless. They will also eat beetles and earthworms. However, the snout of the echidna can only open to approximately 5mm, so in order for it to eat these larger insects it crushes them first with its snout. To eat the echidna sticks out its long sticky tongue that can be up to 18cm long and then pulls it back inside its mouth. It can shoot out its tongue an amazing 100 times per minute. That is how it got its scientific family name Tachyglossus, as it means rapid tongue. The echidna has no teeth, instead it has a horny plate at the back of its mouth that grinds down its food so it is easily digested in the stomach.
Here at Australia Zoo our echidnas are given a diet that mimics the nutrient intake that they receive in the wild. Their stable diet contains: raw beef mince, glucodin, wheat bran, raw egg, water and insectivore mix. We put all this in a blender until it has the consistency of porridge. We will also bring in logs filled with termites and ants and they often will get a treat of mealworms. The echidna spends a lot of time in the wild foraging for its food, so here at the Zoo we like for them to display these natural behaviours. So we’ll present them with their food in different ways. We’ll make little parcels filled with their meal out of palm fronds, we’ll wrap it in paper bark and we’ll even drill holes into logs for the food to go into. Other food that is surprisingly quite popular for our echidnas is strawberry jam, peanut butter and honey. These are given in the form of enrichment as they provide the echidnas with different smells and tastes. We’ll use these spreads on pinecones to put in the enclosure or we’ll make a scent trail for them to follow. And who do you think is the first to follow these scents? Fatty, of course!