August 9th, 2020Nature Diary with Tanya Loos
The silver wattles are blooming in the Wombat Forest and surrounds – a few weeks early this year. One reliable sign of early Spring is right on cue, the appearance of amorous echidnas.
On that lovely warm day at the end of June – just before this cold snap, we were delighted to host a pair of echidnas mating in the garden bed.
The echidna is usually a solitary animal, with a large home range of between 30 to even 100 hectares. The echidna wanders around his or her territory using extraordinary muscular strength to move rocks and logs to get to tasty termites and ant nests in the ground, and if another echidna is encountered, they usually ignore each other.
This indifference turns into the complete opposite in mating season – 100 per cent commitment and attention. A female of breeding age, around five years old, suddenly becomes hot property in the bushland, and randy males follow the female around, shadowing her every move.
This behaviour forms what is known as an echidna train. An echidna train is composed of a female in front, with three or four males following head to tail behind, forming an echidna conga line. An echidna train may have as many as 11 males.
Echidna trains last for about six weeks. I have heard three reports in the past week so we are right in the thick of echidna breeding season now. Isn’t it lovely that nature keeps on with these lovely seasonal cycles, whilst our human world is dealing with so much strife right now.
When it is mating time, another unusual behaviour occurs; the creation of a mating trench. The female decides she is ready to mate and partially buries her front legs and head into the soft dirt at the base of a tree or bush. The males get very excited at this point and start digging a trench around the female.
If there is only one male the mating trench will be a simple straight trench, if there are several males, the trench becomes a large doughnut-shaped ring that can be 20cm deep. The males push and jostle each other in the trench until eventually only one male is in position to mate with the female. They mate on their side, with their openings (cloacas) pushed together.
Our dogs find echidnas fascinating creatures, as I am sure many of yours do. Please ensure that your dogs do not have the opportunity to disturb echidnas during this special time.
Note: This is an updated version of my story on echidnas in Daylesford Nature Diary: Six seasons in the foothill forests.
Image: Stuart King
Tanya Loos is a keen field naturalist who spends a lot of time wandering around the bush in our beautiful region. She loves writing about nature and science – she blogs at https://tanyaloos.wordpress.com/