Have your kids discovered echidnas and now they want to know all about them? They may have asked, “What do echidnas eat?” They are such cute and interesting little animals. My kids love echidnas and we found all sorts of cool things while we were learning about them. Echidnas are decreasing in population but they are typically found in Papua New Guinea and mainland Australia, as well as Tasmania, King Island, Flinders Island, and Kangaroo Island.

What are echidnas?

Echidnas are neat little animals that are part of a special type of mammal group called monotremes. Monotremes are animals that lay a soft, leathery egg but feed their babies milk. Echidnas lay a single egg, about the size of a grape. Once hatched, the baby echidna lives in the mother’s pouch for six to eight weeks. They can live up to 50 years because they’re super laid back and take their time in life.

Learn more fun facts about echidnas here.

What do echidnas eat?

Echidnas prefer to eat termites and ants, which is why they are often referred to as ‘spiny anteaters’. If they can’t find any termite nests to get their little beaks into, earthworms, beetles, and moth larvae are also acceptable meals for them. Echidnas have a long sticky tongue that helps them grab their dinner and a keen sense of smell that helps them locate it.

Adult echidnas have long snouts, powerful front feet, and sharp claws to help them open termite mounds and dig into insect larvae. Echidnas don’t have teeth but their fast tongue helps the snatch up insects before they have time to make a getaway. Hard pads at the back of the tongue, bottom of the mouth, and the roof of the mouth grind the food into a paste for swallowing. 

As they forage through ant and termite nests, they also ingest a large amount of nest material and soil, which tends to make up the bulk of their droppings. 

The baby echidnas will drink milk from the mother echidnas until they’re seven months old. Echidnas don’t feed their babies the same way other mammals do because they lack nipples. Instead the young echidna laps or slurps milk from milk patches on its mother’s skin. The platypus and the echidna are the only mammals that feed their babies this way.

How do echidnas find their food?

How do echidnas find their food?

Echidnas’ hearing is so sensitive that it’s believed they can sense vibrations emitted by termites and ants working underground. They find their food in hollow logs, leaf litter on the forest floor, and termite and ant mounds. An echidna will also use its fine sense of smell to find food and its beak which is highly sensitive to electrical signals.

When and how much do echidnas eat?

In warm areas echidnas feed during the cooler morning and evening hours and sleep during the day to survive the hot weather. In southern Australia, they usually stop eating during the colder months and then eat large amounts during spring.

Compared to many other animals, echidnas are more active during the day for longer periods of time. This is probably due to the time required to find their food since they’re so slow-moving. Echidnas eat about 40,000 individual ants and termites a day. The echidna’s 15-18 centimeter-long tongue is covered in sticky treacle-like saliva and can move extremely fast. Their scientific name ‘Tachyglossus’ means ‘fast tongue.’ They can lap up nearly half a pound of ants in ten minutes!

Where do echidnas get water?

Echidnas get most of their water from the animals they eat but they will also occasionally drink from pools or lick droplets of water from plants moistened by dew or rain. 

Signs of an echidna’s presence:

Echidnas aren’t easy to spot in the wild because they are quiet, solitary animals. They don’t like extreme weather and prefer to shelter from severe heat and chilly winds in caves, under thick vegetation, and between the rock crevices. Still, they leave signs that they’ve been around. They can be identified by their droppings and half-ravaged termite mounds in open logs. Each echidna species is found in a different area and a range of habitats, which you can learn all about in Fun Facts About Echidnas for Kids.

What do echidnas look like?

The long beaked echidnas and the short beaked echidnas have slight differences, but they are still both easy to recognize by their coverage of sharp spines. They are shaped like a little spiky ball with short, sturdy limbs and a nose, either long or short depending on the species of echidna. Short beaked echidnas have fur between their spikes, although it’s not easy to see.

Chief threats to echidnas:

Other animals such as feral cats, foxes, goannas, domestic dogs, and snakes are known or believed to kill echidnas. Although many times the echidna’s spines protect them. Snakes pose a large threat to the echidna species. Snakes may slither into echidna burrows and prey on the young spineless puggles (baby echidnas).

The biggest threat to echidnas, everywhere they are found, is habitat loss. Human populations moving in and destroying the forests where echidnas live has resulted in a steady population decrease. Echidnas are not yet considered endangered, but their numbers have drastically decreased over the years.

​​What can be done to help echidnas?

Locals in echidnas native areas can help echidnas with the issue of habitat loss by:

  • Helping to retain or restore echidna’s habitats. Things like fallen logs and branches, tree stumps, rocks, leaf litter, and debris on their property. Retention of the understory provides cover for echidnas from predators while traveling and moving around their home range.
  • Planting native vegetation like trees, shrubs, and grasses that provide habitat and movement corridors for echidnas.

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