Who's this little critter? It's a 30-day-old Echidna baby, known as a 'puggle'— one of only 24 ever bred in captivity! The proud parents are Tippy and Pickle of Australia Zoo. The tiny baby, whose sex has not been announced, is well cared for by its mom, Tippy.
Echidnas are monotremes, the only living group of egg-laying mammals. Echidnas breed in July and August. Four weeks after conception, the mother lays a single, soft egg and places it in a pouch on her abdomen. After just ten days, a tiny, naked puggle hatches and continues to develop in mom's warm pouch, lapping up milk secreted from glands on her abdomen. The puggle will stay in Tippy's pouch for about 60 days until it is just too spiky to carry around. Then she will hide her baby in a burrow under a log and return to nurse it occasionally until it is weaned at about seven or eight months old.
Echidnas live only in Australia and New Guinea. They have no teeth, but are well adapted to eat termites, ants, beetle-larvae, and other soil invertebrates: their large strong claws are great for breaking open rotting logs, and their long snouts allow them to root around in soil. Short-beaked Echidnas are a very common species, but the other three species (the Sir David's Long-beaked, Eastern Long-beaked, and Western Long-beaked Echidnas) are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are threatened by hunting as well as by habitat loss from logging and agricultural expansion. The successful birth of another puggle in captivity brings us a step closer to conserving these unique creatures.