Feeling a little prickly?

Australia is home to a great diversity of, and many unique animals. Most native Australians are not found anywhere beyond its territories. I guess that’s not surprising since it is the world largest island or smallest continent country with vast expanses of ocean between it and other continents.

feeling-prickly-marsupials

Australia is home to almost 70% of the world’s marsupials. Other marsupials are found in the Americas, mostly South America. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils, numbats, bilbies, and quolls are among the species of marsupials found in Australia.

Marsupials are mammals that give birth to live young before they are fully developed. The young, usually referred to as joeys, continue to develop in the mother’s pouch for a number of months, suckling on their mother’s milk.

feeling-prickly-monotremes

There is another group of even more unusual mammals: the monotremes. Monotremes are egg-laying mammals. The platypus and the echidna, the only existing species of monotremes, are unique to Australia.

The platypus

When Europeans first saw a platypus, they thought it was a hoax with its bill like a duck’s, tail like a beaver’s, and feet like an otter’s. It has fur like other mammals but, unlike other mammals, it lays eggs.

The platypus lives in burrows on the banks of freshwater streams and small rivers in eastern Australia, including Tasmania. It spends much of its time foraging in the muddy river beds for crayfish, worms and insect larvae.

Female platypus usually lay two eggs. When the young hatch, the mother releases milk from pores in her skin. The milk pools on her abdomen and is lapped up by the young for about three to four months. There is no special baby name for baby platypus. They are simply called ‘baby platypus’.

The male platypus, with a poisonous spur on its hind foot, is one of only a few venomous mammals.

Platypus predators include crocodiles, eagles, dingoes, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats.

The echidna

Echidnas, the oldest surviving mammals, live all over Australia in many different habitats. They usually live alone and are not territorial. Although it is rare to see an echidna in the wild, they are considered common. They generally hide away under vegetation, in logs, or in the burrows of other animals.

Echidnas eat termites and ants, and sometimes the larvae of other insects. They use their long snouts to forage in leaf litter, rotting logs, or ant mounds in search of food. Their long tongues are covered in sticky saliva for catching prey.

Echidnas are covered with spines along the head, back and tail. The spines are sharp and used for defence against predators.

Female echidnas usually lay one egg at a time. When the young, called a “puggle”, hatches, it makes its way to the mother’s pouch area to suckle milk. When the puggle starts to develop spines, at about 50 days, it is removed from the pouch. The mother continues to suckle it until it is about six to seven months old, at which time she deposits it at the entrance to the burrow, then walks away and abandons it.

Predators include goannas, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, eagles, and introduced animals such as foxes and feral cats. When threatened an echidna may run away or curl up in a ball.

Although all have spines, echidnas are not related to either hedgehogs or porcupines.

Here is a great article about these amazing echidnas.

If you are looking for books about Australian animals, check out the Steve Parish Storybook Collection by Rebecca Johnson, featured in last month’s Author Spotlight, which includes stories about both monotremes, many marsupials, and other fabulous creatures.

Monotremes and marsupials feature in the readilearn stories Bullfrog’s Billabong and Little Koala’s Party and their suite of resources.

Bullfrog's Billabong - coverlittle-koalas-party-cover

I was prompted to think about the diversity and uniqueness of these Australian animals, especially the echidna, by this week’s flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. I thought there was no better opportunity to share with you some of our amazing creatures, particularly since just last week I was lucky enough to see an echidna in the wild for the very first time.

The uniqueness and diversity of Australian animals reflects our own individual uniqueness and the diversity among us. We have much to learn about accepting difference, appreciating diversity, and acknowledging the unique characteristics each individual contributes to the enrichment of our collective humanity. Together we stand. Divided we fall.

Here is my response. I hope you enjoy it.

Stronger together

She bristled, warning platypus to stop. He didn’t.

“Feeling a little prickly, are we?”

Kookaburra, oblivious, laughed at the “joke”.

She smarted. Couldn’t he see the hurt in his words? Like a spur in her side, that last barb, really stung. Mocking difference pushed them apart.

The bush quietened. Not a breath of wind. Not a leaf’s rustle. Not a bird’s chirrup. Were all waiting for the victor to be decided?

Suddenly, out of the undergrowth, rushed a devil, hungry for blood.

Platypus turned to echidna. She contemplated leaving him. But stayed. Spur and spines together: a powerful defence.

 

Author’s note: Tasmanian devils have been known to eat echidnas, spines and all!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

31 thoughts on “Feeling a little prickly?

  1. Hugh's Views and News

    Thank you for introducing us to these delightful animals, Norah. Sadly, our native Hedgehogs are on the decline in the UK. Many people think that feeding them milk is good, but it’s dog food which is better for them as milk can make them very ill and even die.
    I’ve not seen a Hedgehog for many years, but when I was a child you always saw them (usually curled up in a ball under lots of leaves, fast asleep.)
    I had to look Tasmanian Devils up. Quite a cute looking creature, but with very sharp teeth. Nothing like the cartoon Tasmanian devil I remember so well from my childhood days.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you enjoyed learning about the animals, Hugh.
      I was hoping to see a hedgehog when I visited the UK, but all I got to see was a cute and cuddly soft hedgehog toy. We read about them in so many children’s stories. They always seem very cute. I have heard of them stealing the dog’s food. It’s a shame people feed them milk. People here often feed bread to wild birds and I believe it is no good for them either. Seems people all over the world can’t help themselves.
      Thanks for sharing the video. I don’t think he would have got me to floss my teeth! 🙂

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  2. Pingback: A Prickly Season « Carrot Ranch Communications

  3. Charli Mills

    Yes, you did come up with unique prickly subjects and taught us something of diversity, too! I wonder if the echidna is related to the porcupine? I had not heard of this marsupial before. Your flash is a great lesson in using one’s bristles to protect each other and not to simply cast barbs.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Charli. It was an enjoyable challenge. I love our native animals. But I guess we are not the only continent with unique creatures.
      The echidna, hedgehog and porcupine are not related. This page may give you a clear answer. http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/answers/viewtopic.php?id=39 – a lesson in convergent evolution. It’s very interesting.
      I’m pleased the flash worked. I had to turn it around for a positive conclusion. Echidna started out retaliating. 🙂

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  4. thecontentedcrafter

    That was an interesting lead in to the flash Norah! Australia’s wildlife is unique and absolutely fascinating. I didn’t know about the spur on the male platypus at all! My favourite Australian mammal is the wombat, which Siddy is often likened to as he moves like one when he is half asleep or busy foraging in the undergrowth……. I loved the flash itself – great turn of events 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your enthusiastic response, Pauline. Wombats are very cute. Maybe Siddy needs a wombat toy. He might even enjoy being read “Diary of a Wombat” by Jackie French. I assume you are leaving him to learn to read in his own time. 🙂 I love the thought of him foraging in the undergrowth. I’m sure he comes out with all kinds of surprises for you.
      So pleased you enjoyed the flash. Thank you. xx

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  5. julespaige

    I like where you went. I forgot to mention at Charli’s place that I learned that a single arm on a cactus takes about 50 years to grow. And yes staying and working together is an important lesson.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jules. I’m pleased you enjoyed the story. I preferred this lesson to the way I ended the story originally. 🙂 50 years is a long time to grow an arm! How old some of those cacti must be.

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  6. TanGental

    We were lucky enough to see an echidna in the wild when on Kangaroo Island all those years ago. We were with a guide who’d been doing the job 20 years and this was a first for him. I don’t think either of our children (then 5 and 8) had any conception of their good fortune. Just another tick in the book of mammals! The flash, as usual, neatly hits its target!

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    1. Norah Post author

      You were lucky! I’m sure the children didn’t realize how lucky you were. Isn’t it amazing that the guide hadn’t seen one in 20 years. I’m pleased I told no lie about their being elusive. I haven’t been to Kangaroo Island yet. Hope to one day. The echidna I saw was crossing a road in Tasmania. Luckily the drive saw it from afar and slowed right down so we could watch it as it waddled off into the bushes.
      Glad the flash works. Thanks. 🙂

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  7. Steven

    I consider myself lucky to have seen a wild emu on two separate occasions but I doubt I will ever get to see either a wild platypus or echidna – you are indeed very lucky. I doubt I will see a wild wombat either; even locating them at a zoo is difficult enough as they always seem to be asleep in their hideouts.

    I think “puggle” is one of those occasional classic trivia questions, as well as sounding very cute and apt. I had no idea about baby platypus and on reading your article was then surprised to find Wikipedia citing puggle as relating to the platypus as well – I guess that is the downside of a crowd sourced encyclopaedia.

    I never considered what sort of characters the echidna and platypus might have, but one thing that is certain is that you definitely got the kookaburra right. I like that twist at the end of your flash fiction and how it contrasts with the preceeding adversarial parts.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for reading, and for your wonderful comment, Steven. It is exciting to see the animals in the wild. Though we are lucky that our wild animals are generally not that fierce. I did feel very lucky to see an echidna. I think I have seen emus in the outback, but it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, and real memories from inventions. My daughter saw many wombats in the wild when she was touring Tasmania a few years ago. Jackie French has them living all over her property, I believe.
      I have also heard baby platypus referred to as puggles. I should have cited all the references I used to check my “facts”. Maybe Wikipedia is more correct than those I used.
      I’m pleased you like the twist at the end of the flash. It didn’t end that way initially. Echidna was going to leave platypus to his fate. I decided I’d let them work it out and stand united instead. Not sure where that leaves the poor Tassie Devil though. He still needs a feed! I’m not sure about the personality characteristics of echidnas and platypus either, but I did need a prickly character! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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