Christmas Bells

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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Echidna and Possum babies in Shoalhaven region

Today I was driving along Culburra Road, south from Nowra, when a car coming the other way, suddenly stopped, flashing its lights. A man got out of the car, and stood on the road in front of the car. It looked puzzling, till we drew up opposite them and realised there was an Echidna on the road, and the guy was trying to stop it from walking across the  road, where it would have been at great risk from passing cars.

The lady then got out and grabbed some "welding gloves" from the boot. Turns out they were Wildlife Rescuers who had received a call to go and collect a baby Brush-tailed Possum the mother of which had been killed by someone's "pet" dog.
Here is the baby Possum
baby Brush-tailed Possum
 I was surprised how much it looked like a Kangaroo, with its short fur, and lack of the normal markings. But the "hands" on the front legs were very obviously equipped for climbing, with sharp claws and a thick pad on the "thumb".

While going to answer that call, they had seen the same Echidna, and had moved it off the road.

Having collected the Possum, they were returning home, on the same road, and found the same Echidna trying again to cross the same road. They are notoriously persistent.
Echidna being held by the rescuer who stopped it from getting run over

That's where they were up to in this story, when we arrived.
I sought permission to take a few images, and they agreed.
This Echidna was merely half-grown.
Echidna - close up shot. It kept wriggling and hiding its face.

Echidna's snout which includes its nose, and the very long tongue
They moved the Echidna for the second time - this time to the far side of the road, where it apparently wanted to go.

For overseas guests to this Blog, an Echidna is an ant-eating marsupial animal (in fact they have preference for breaking into termite mounds to get the larvae). It and the Platypus are proto-marsupials*** which lay eggs, yet suckle their young. *** I have been corrected on the use of that term. I should have stuck with just calling them "monotremes" but thought that was going to be too confusing. My instinct on that was right. Check out this article on Monotreme taxonomy. 

Echidnas are notoriously stubborn about crossing roads, and they are frequently killed in the process. I have written about one I found freshly killed when crossing another road.

There is an interesting article about the biology of Echidnas, and their rescuing, at Fourth Crossing Wildlife


Wilma said...

Great to see that echidna up close and the little possum, too. Looking forward to your new orchid photos.


Gouldiae said...

G'day Denis,
Thank goodness for the rescue people that do such good work around the country.
You'd better check the 'aaawwww meter' for this entry!

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Wilma
These were easy - I don't need to worry about naming them correctly!
That's harder with the little Pink Finger Orchids. At least 3 species from yesterday,and one other white one.
Lots of work with the books before I publish.

mick said...

That's what I call a good news story! I hope the little possum makes it - although it does look big enough to survive.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Mick
The Wildlife Rescuers were very confident they could get the possum through, OK. They did say it was scared, though. Why not?
Mum getting mauled, with joey in pouch. Not nice.
I was happy to be able to write up the good news story.
Glad you liked it.

Prem Subrahmanyam said...

I thought echidnas and platypuses were both classified as monotremes due to their egg-laying nature, as opposed to marsupials or even proto-marsupials...has this changed in recent years?

wildwings said...

Lovely story and photos Denis.
About a month ago we noticed that a new termite mound had been demolished overnight. The termites immediately commenced rebuilding but a week later it was destroyed again! We presumed the culprit was an echidna but didn't manage to catch it in the act....which would have been interesting to watch. Since then the termites have continued their building program with undaunted enthusiasm and so far all is well.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Prem
You are right, I should not have used the term "proto-marsupials". I thought they were much more ancient in lineage than they are.
I knew that "Echidnas lack a permanent pouch", but I did not know that: "The female lays a single soft-shelled, leathery egg 22 days after mating, and deposits it directly into her pouch. Hatching takes place after ten days; the young Echidna, called a puggle, then sucks milk from the pores of the two milk patches".
Wikipedia says: "it has been suggested that "oviparous reproduction in monotremes confers advantages over marsupials, a view consistent with present ecological partitioning between monotremes and marsupials."
and: "Echidnas and the platypus are the only egg-laying mammals, known as monotremes."
Given that they have no nipples, it makes me wonder quite how they meet the definition of a mammal.
I ought have stuck with "monotremes", but I didn't because I thought it would require too much time defining the terms. But here I am trying (but failing) to do just, that anyway.
Thanks for correcting the record.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Barbara
They are great diggers (and demolishers). You probably know that Goannas also break into Termite mounds, to lay their eggs inside, to benefit from the constant temperature.
But they do not "demolish" termite mounds, in the way you describe. So your comment about it likely to be Echidnas is probably correct.
I find them perpetually fascinating.
I have taken the close-up of the "nose" (or beak) for that reason.
I am sure that you enjoy your local Echidnas. They are precious.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Gouldiae
For some reason your comment went through to the keeper. Just found it now.
Yeah, I was taking an easy way out, going for the sentimentality vote.
Makes a change from trying to make tiny Orchids sound interesting.
It was actually a great relief!