Zaglossus bruijniwestern long-beaked echidna(Also: New Guinean echidna)

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Geographic Range

The long-nosed echidna is endemic to New Guinea (Gregory, 1997).

Habitat

Long-nosed echidnas primarily inhabitate mountain forests, although some live on highly elevated alpine meadows. The species does not live along the coastal plains (Augee, 1993; Walker, 1991).

Physical Description

As monotremes, the long-nosed echidnas possess one body cavity for the external openings of their urinary, digestive, and reproductive organs. The species has a very short tail relative to its average body length of 450-775 mm. The core body is covered in course brown or black hair that often hides the spines covering the back. Zaglossus has a pronounced downcurved snout, which accounts for two-thirds of the length of its head. Lack of teeth in the species is compensated by rows of spikes/horny teeth-like projections on the enormous tongues of the animals. Long-nosed echidnas generally have clawed feet, the front ones important in digging for food. Within the species there is variation in the number of clawed digits on each foot. Many have claws only on the middle three of the five digits present; others have claws on each digit. The males of the species can be distinguished from the females by the presence of a spur on the inner surface of each hind leg near the foot. (Augee, 1993; Gregory, 1997; Griffiths, 1968; Walker, 1991).

  • Range mass
    5 to 16.5 kg
    11.01 to 36.34 lb
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    6.493 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Little is known about reproduction in Zaglossus, although they are believed to be similar in reproductive pattern to their sister species, the short-nosed echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Frequency of breeding, courtship rituals, and possible male parental care are unknown for both echidna species. It is thought that the breeding season for the long-nosed echidna is in July. A captive Z. bruijni specimen lived for a record 30 years and 8 months.

(Gregory, 1997; Walker, 1991).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

As with reproductive aspects of the biology of long-nosed echidnas, their behavior and social systems are largely unknown. They are believed to be solitary. Research on their sister species has shown that the echidna's behavior is characteristically simpler than that of most mammals. The short-nosed echidnas display no evidence of grooming, aggression, courting, or maternal behaviors (Walker, 1991).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The diet of Zaglossus bruijni consists almost exclusively of earthworms. When earthworms are eaten, they are positioned by the echidna to go front first into the snout. The powerful tongue of the long-nosed echidna protrudes a small distance and wraps around the front of the worm. While the worm is pulled into the mouth, the echidna's tongue holds the worm in place with its spikes. Termites and other insect larvae are also eaten, they may eat ants.

(Augee, 1993; Walker, 1991)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The meat of Zaglossus is a popular food source in New Guinea (Augee, 1993; Walker, 1991).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Long-nosed echidnas can destroy gardens with their burrowing. In fact, this is seldom a problem. (Gregory, 1997)

Conservation Status

Listed in appendix II of CITES, Z. bruijni is categorized as vulnerable by IUCN. Hunting with trained dogs by the New Guinean people as well as loss of natural forest habitat due to farming are the primary causes for the species' endangerment. Data tabulated in 1982 indicated that only 1.6 Zaglossus existed per square kilometer of suitable habitat. If the data were accurate, about 300,000 long-nosed echidnas were in existence then, and the number has dropped since that time (Walker, 1991).

Other Comments

The long-nosed echidna is reported to have sweat glands spread over its entire body surface.

Pleistocene fossils of Zaglossus have been found throughout Australia and Tasmania. No other member of the genus currently occurs outside of New Guinea. It is thought that the disappearance of long-nosed echidnas in Australia was due to climate changes that led to decreased presence of earthworms.

In the past, taxonomists recognized up to four species of Zaglossus. At present all long-nosed echidnas are considered to be one species, Z. bruijni (Augee, 1993; Walker, 1991).

Contributors

Danielle Cross (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

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

World Map

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

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.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

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.

rainforest

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.

sexual

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

tactile

uses touch to communicate

References

Augee, M. L. 1993. Echidnas of Australia and New Guinea. New South Wales University Press, Australia.

Gregory, Cal. 1997. http://www.omen.com.au/-echidna/index.htm

Griffiths, Mervyn. 1968. Echidnas. Pergamon Press, New York.

Nowak, R. M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fifth Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.