A prickly giant with a very long tongue


The Giant The Giant Echidna (Zaglossus hackettii) which lived in South West Australia until around 55,000 years ago. It is the largest monotreme so far discovered. (Image from here)

Australia’s native fauna are undeniably odd and none more so than the curious monotremes (the Monotremata). These egg-laying, milk-producing, furry creatures are mammals, but with organs and body parts that may be more at home in birds or reptiles including a cloaca, an interclavicle bone, and ankle spurs on adult males. These unusual features hint at the ancestry of the monotremes, which are thought to have diverged from the rest of the mammals some 220 million years ago.

The familiar short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is Australia’s only remaining species of echidna, although it has been suggested that the western long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus bruijni, may still be found in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Three more…

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