Zaglossus attenboroughiSir David's long-beaked echidna

Geographic Range

Zaglossus attenboroughi is endemic to Papua, New Guinea. Sir David's long-beaked echidnas may once have been distributed along the North Coast Ranges, but they are now restricted to the tops of the Cyclops Mountains near Jayapura. (Flannery and Groves, 1998)


Sir David's long-beaked echidnas live in forested mountainous areas of the Cyclops Mountains, an area of approximately 50 square kilometers. (Baillie, et al., 2009; Flannery and Groves, 1998)

  • Range elevation
    200 to 1700 m
    656.17 to 5577.43 ft

Physical Description

Sir David's long-beaked echidnas are the smallest echidna species, weighing 2 to 3 kilograms. The rostrum is approximately 70 mm long and is somewhat straighter than other echidna species. The short rostrum and their size makes them appear similar to short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus). They have 5 claws on each foot and adult males have a small non-venomous spur on the inside of each ankle. Adult females lack these spurs. The fur is distinctive, short, fine, and dense, unlike other echidnas, and raw umber brown in color. There is short fur that covers the few spines on the middle back of this species. The spines are almost white and are most dense nearest the tail. Adults have no teeth, but the tongue is covered in teeth-like spikes. Like other Zaglossus species, they have no external genitalia; making sex determination difficult. (Baillie, et al., 2009; Flannery and Groves, 1998; "EDGE: Mammal Species Information", 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    10 (high) kg
    22.03 (high) lb
  • Average mass
    2-3 kg
  • Average length
    30 cm
    11.81 in


Not much is known about the reproductive or mating behaviors of Zaglossus attenboroughi because only one specimen has been found to date. It is unknown when these animals breed or whether they are promiscuous. (Baillie, et al., 2009)

It is thought that the reproductive behavior might be similar to that of other Zaglossus species. The number of offspring during a breeding cycle is unknown, as is the gestation period and the age at which sexual maturity is reached. Most likely, as with other Zaglossus species, when females reach sexual maturity the non-venomous spurs on their ankles usually disappear. (Flannery and Groves, 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding interval is unknown.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season is unknown.

It is thought that Sir David's long-beaked echidnas females care for and protect their young after laying the eggs and after their hatching. Young stay in dens. Not much else is known about parental involvement in the species. (Flannery and Groves, 1998)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


The lifespan of Zaglossus attenboroughi is unknown. (Flannery and Groves, 1998)


The behavior of Sir David's long-beaked echidnas is not known, other than that they inhabit the Cyclops Mountains and feed on worms and larvae. (Baillie, et al., 2009; Flannery and Groves, 1998; "EDGE: Mammal Species Information", 2009)

  • Average territory size
    50 km^2

Home Range

The home range of this species is unknown. (Flannery and Groves, 1998)

Communication and Perception

Sir David's long-beaked echidnas most likely relies on their sense of smell to find worms and larvae to eat. They use their beak to find food. Like other echidnas, they are likely to use electroreception to find food. They have electroreceptors on the tips of their snouts, which they can press to the ground or other objects to detect living organisms and to perceive the environment. (Flannery and Groves, 1998; "Electroreception in fish, amphibians, and monotremes", 2010; "EDGE: Mammal Species Information", 2009)

Forms of social communication are unknown in this species. (Flannery and Groves, 1998)

Food Habits

It is mostly unknown what Sir David's long-beaked echidnas feed on in the wild, but it is thought that they feed on worms. Researchers have identified holes in the ground made by their rostra as they poke for food. (Baillie, et al., 2009; Leary, et al., 2011; "Electroreception in fish, amphibians, and monotremes", 2010; Phillips, et al., 2009)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms


It is unknown if Zaglossus attenboroughi has any natural predators. ("EDGE: Mammal Species Information", 2009)

Ecosystem Roles

Ecological roles of this species are completely unknown, as they have never been seen alive in the wild. ("EDGE: Mammal Species Information", 2009; "EDGE: Mammal Species Information", 2009)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Sir David's long-beaked echidnas have cultural importance in the communities surrounding the Cyclops Mountains. Sometimes disputes are resolved by having the two fighting parties share a meal of echidna. At other times, people are punished by either having to pay a fine or by having to find an echidna in the mountains. (Baillie, et al., 2009)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Because the adult males of Zaglossus attenboroughi have a spur on each ankle, they can cause some harm to humans by sticking them with the spurs. However, the spurs are not venomous. (Flannery and Groves, 1998)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

The species was thought to be extinct until 2007, when an expedition led by EDGE team members discovered evidence that Zaglossus attenboroughi still existed. Currently, Sir David’s long-beaked echidnas are critically endangered and there is a conservation effort underway where the original specimen was found. The Cyclops Mountains Strict Nature Reserve was created to protect the habitat of Zaglossus attenboroughi. Currently, it is believed that hunting and loss of habitat due to farming and mining are the main reasons for the threat to their survival. (Baillie, et al., 2009; Leary, et al., 2011; "EDGE: Mammal Species Information", 2009)

Other Comments

There has only ever been one specimen of Zaglossus attenboroughi collected in 1961. Since then, there have been sightings of this species by members of the communities surrounding the Cyclops Mountains; these community members call the species payangko. (Baillie, et al., 2009; Flannery and Groves, 1998)


Stephanie Galarza (author), Yale University, Eric Sargis (editor), Yale University, Rachel Racicot (editor), Yale University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


remains in the same area


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


The Zoological Society of London. 2009. "EDGE: Mammal Species Information" (On-line). EDGE of Existence: Evolutionarily Distinct & Globally Endangered. Accessed January 27, 2012 at

Map of Life. 2010. "Electroreception in fish, amphibians, and monotremes" (On-line). Map of Life - Convergent Evolution Online. Accessed April 30, 2012 at

Baillie, J., S. Turvey, C. Waterman. 2009. Survival of Attenborough's Long-beaked Echidna Zaglossus attenboroughi in New Guinea. Cambridge Journals, 43/1: 146-148.

Flannery, T., C. Groves. 1998. Revision of the Genus Zaglossus (Monotremata, Tachyglossidae), with Description of New Species and Subspecies. Mammalia, 62/3: 367-396.

Leary, T., L. Seri, T. Flannery, D. Wright, S. Hamilton, K. Helgen, R. Singadan, J. Menzies, A. Allison, R. James, K. Aplin, L. Salas, C. Dickman. 2011. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Zaglossus attenboroughi. Accessed January 27, 2012 at

Phillips, M., T. Bennett, M. Lee. 2009. Molecules, Morphology, and Ecology Indicate a Recent, Amphibious Ancestry for Echidnas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106/40: 17089-17094.