Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Echidna

This little Echidna was walking right beside the Illawarra Highway (with trucks rolling just past it). I was concerned that it might have been wanting to cross the road, but no, it was happily foraging amongst the dead (sprayed) grass beside the road. I am showing you this one, because you can see it walking, and see its head close up - unlike recent postings.

I walked back to check it out, and I could see it was slowly "working" the grass verge, ducking in and out, burrowing its head into the ground looking for ants and insects, etc. Then it would re-emerge, walk a few paces along the edge of the road, and go back into the grass. A large paralysis tick is visible on its neck. You can also clearly see the powerful front foot - its main digging impliment. (Click to enlarge).
I waited until it walked within a few metres of me. You can see its large claws on its left foot.Here is a close up of its nose. Its tiny eyes are barely visible. It happens to be living at the very best viewing point on the Highway, overlooking Macquarie Pass, but as it could not see me (standing still) at this close range, a view of the Pacific Ocean is somewhat irrelevant to it. I just wished it all the best. Note the very large Paralysis Tick on its neck.
When it realised I was there (eventually) it just moved straight into the close-by long grass, and "froze". I could see that its head was swarming with ants (which is something I have observed before). When you think about how and where they feed, this must be "normal" for them. Similarly, it had a very large paralysis tick embedded amongst the thick hairs in the side of its neck. I had already spotted the white lump at about 20 metres - it was that obvious. I have also seen large ticks on other Echidnas. As this animal was behaving perfectly naturally, I can only assume that Echidnas have evolved with ticks, and are immune to their poison. Certainly a tick this fat would long since have paralysed a dog (I know a much smaller one was on the way to killing Lena, until I removed it). But, 60 million years of evolution in conjunction with ticks is along time to adapt, and presumably develop immunity to tick poison.

Eventually it realised I was there, and "froze". It headed back into the grass, and clung on to protect itself from a perceived threat (me).

Knowing how stubborn these little guys are, I left it alone, because it had got to a point where the roadside edge broadened out into a little patch of scrub - so it actually had somewhere to escape to. Besides, it clearly had no intention of crossing the road, for it was happily foraging in the grass. The fact that it chooses to do so beside the busiest road in the district is nothing I can control for.
Some photos of baby Echidnas and some WIRES rescue cases show details of the nose and mouth of Echidnas, if you are interested in the details of how they breathe and seek out their food. Allow the full page of images to download. Photos of Platypus come up first. Be patient.


Jarrett said...

Yes. I've only encountered two echidnas in all my walks in Australia. Do you notice something rather clunky and mechanical about their walk -- sort of like an animated monster or robot in a 70s film?

mick said...

Interesting post. I wonder why the road verge was the chosen place to forage? Do they not hear noise well either? What about the movement through the ground of all the heavy traffic? Very surprising that is was there.

Mosura said...

Interesting post and great pics. Better be careful on that road yourself. Doesn't look like there's much room when it comes to avoiding trucks.

Denis Wilson said...

Sorry for delay in responding - the computer had a fit this morning, and closed down while I was replying. But it is over it.

Jarrett - yes, they seem to have their legs right out on their corners, and when digging they push out almost horizontally. When walking the front legs do go straight forward, they then kick out sideways, in a rolling left-right stride. Yes, they are a lot like wind-up toys, really.

I have great series of photos, and if I had enough band-width I could do a cute animation of it walking down the road towards me, and ducking into the grass, and coming back out, etc..

Mick, I don't know, but I saw another one (same one?) about 300 metres from that spot, doing the same thing. There were lots of ants on its head, so presumably the ants live near the road - maybe the ants they burrow under the road, because it is drier there. Just a thought. I had not considered that previously. Interesting question - thanks.

Hi Mosura. Thanks for the thoughtful concern. I can assure you I was very careful - making sure I was highly visible. Only one idiot hooted his stupid blaring horn at me - and he was going up the hill - on the other side of the road - when I was not concerned about traffic. Bugger made me jump, which annoyed me intensely, 'cos that's what he wanted to do.