Millie, a friendly echidna, has recently arrived at Pilyara. (I really don’t know what gender, but with such a pretty face, I’m guessing a girl!) She loves feasting on the meat ants that live in our old brick pile. So in honour of our new resident, here are some fascinating echidna facts.
1. Echidnas are the most widely distributed mammal in Australia and are listed as common. (Yes – I know they’re monotremes too.) But because they live for forty-five years or more, we may have an ageing population. Nobody knows the current survival rate for young. In a Kangaroo Island study, more than a quarter of all puggles (the cute name for baby echidnas) were killed in their burrows by cats each year.
2. The prefrontal cortex of an echidna’s brain is larger compared to the rest of its body than any other mammal, including man! Usually the greater the volume of this part of the brain, the more intelligent the animal is. So, Millie’s a smart cookie!
3. It was once thought that echidnas were the only mammals that didn’t dream, because they didn’t seem to experience REM sleep. It’s now been discovered that echidnas do experience REM sleep, so long as they’re at the right temperature. At 25°C they experience REM sleep, but at 28°C or 15°C it decreased or disappeared. Wonder what they dream about?
4. Echidnas breed in winter, so if Millie sticks around until then, I might be lucky enough to see some fascinating courtship behaviour – an echidna love train. These processions are led by the female, with up to ten lovelorn males trailing behind. It can take six weeks before Miss Popularity chooses a mate from the strongest and most determined suitors.