Graphic photo warning. This post shows images of a fresh road-killed Echidna.
These poor little guys cross roads in Spring, seeking a mate, and as they are terribly slow walkers, they are at serious risk of having this happen to them. Mind you, I get cross every time I see this kind of road kill, because it really is a comment on an unobservant or careless driver.
Technically, it is called the "Short-beaked Echidna" (Tachyglossus aculeatus). There is only a single species of Echidna in Australia, but apparently, three species of long-beaked Echidnas live in Papua New Guinea. They are classed within a different genus.
In general I do not photograph "road-kills". Some people find them "unseemly", and sometimes, they are not "nice" (up close and personal). Today I saw a dead Echidna on a road which I had driven down two hours before, and it was not there when I first went down the road. So I knew this Echidna was freshly killed. This is important, as dead Echidnas get very smelly, very quickly, if lying on a hot road. I speak from experience.
Anyway, my real reason for taking (and showing) these photos is for scientific interest value. I have previously posted photos of live Echidnas. But a dead specimen allows some shots which the live ones are not happy to pose for. So it is a rare opportunity to examine some aspects of the structure of an Echidna.
This particular Echidna has now been respectfully buried, and covered with a heavy metal cage, hopefully to prevent dogs or foxes from interfering with it.
Here is the dead Echidna, placed on its back. It has no evident pouch, so I assume this one is a male, but as they are "monotremes", they do not have the visible (external) apparatus which we tend to regard as normal. Female Echidnas do suckle their young, but apparently they have no "nipples" as such, but "milk patches" from which they young lap the extruded milk. I wondered about the two seemingly bald patches - on either side of the abdomen. However, females do have a form of pouch which they use while the young (called "Puggles") are sheltered for several months, while they are small, and before they become too spiky. As I say, there is no pouch structure evident on the abdomen of this Echidna.
Here is the left front foot (the upper side). These short legs and thick nails are very powerful, and they do the bulk of the digging work. The rear legs do the flicking out of the loosened soil - hence the long nails, acting like shovels.The rear legs do the flicking out of the loosened soil - so I figured that would explain the long nails, acting like long-handled shovels. However, the websites say that the very long nails are used for grooming between the long spines. What appears to be a "thumb" is clearly visible in this image. It is reduced to a stump.
Apparently, Echidnas do have a "heel spur", (as do Platypuses), but they are blunt and non-venomous. From this link to an excellent WIRES site, you can see that the spur on an Echidna is well back on the heel, and it does not develop to protrude. Allow the WIRES site time to download images, and you will see stunning pictures of Echidnas, including babies, rescued by WIRES (Platypuses also).
I have never before seen this - the tongue by which the Echidna collects termites, which are its favourite food. In the Southern Highlands, on often finds termite mounds broken into by Echidnas. This shows the underside of the snout. Echidnas have a toothless jaw, and a very small mouth. They rely on catching ants and termites with the sticky tongue, and drawing them back into the mouth. The camera lens cap is there for scale. It is 64 mm in diameter (2 1/2 inches) A photo of an Echidna skull is visible on the Museum of Victoria website. It looks strangely bird-like in its structure.
Here is the snout, as seen from above, with the tongue still protruding.