Porcupine Ant-Eater, the popular name of the echidna (Cuv.), a genus of marsupial mammals of the section monotremata, inhabiting Australia and Tasmania. The snout is long, slender, and naked, and the tongue protractile, very long, and slender, as in the ant-eaters proper; the opening of the mouth small; the upper part of the body covered with spines and hairs intermixed; legs short and powerful; all the feet with five well developed toes with large nails, the fore feet formed for hurt-owing, and the hind feet in the male with a horny spur as in the ornithorhynchus; tail very short, and hidden by the spines. The best known species, the E. aculeata (Shaw), is about a foot long, with a stout body, spiny above, and the head, limbs, and lower parts with brownish black coarse hair; inner toe of the hind feet with a broad rounded nail, the others with long curved claws, that of the second very long. It is considerably larger than the common hedgehog, is powerfully built, and especially adapted for burrowing. The food consists of ants and other small insects, which it captures like the ant-eaters with its tongue, by means of a viscid matter secreted by two large submaxillary glands extending from behind the ear to the fore part of the chest; there are no teeth in the jaws, but the palate is armed with several rows of horny spines directed backward, and the upper surface of the tongue is furnished with numerous small corneous warts.
The skull in shape has been compared to the half of a pear cut lengthwise, being 4 in. long by If in. wide at the posterior portion, ending in a point anteriorly; nostrils near the end of snout; eyes small and black; ear cavity in the form of a long tube, with its S-shaped opening on the back of the head. The spines are dirty white tipped with black, sharp, about 1 3/4 in. long, directed backward, and on the back inward, crossing each other on the mesial line. The hind feet in the natural position rest on their inner side, the concave surface looking outward, thus keeping the claws unworn for casting aside the earth loosened by the fore claws. In captivity it is stupid, slow-moving, avoiding the light, and active only in burrowing, which it does with astonishing rapidity; specimens have been kept alive at the London zoological gardens, where they were fed on bread and milk; when irritated or asleep they roll themselves in a ball, the head between the fore legs. It can sink into loose sand directly-downward, presenting only its spiny back to its enemies; in spite of its defensive armor, it often falls a prey to the thylacine and other carnivorous marsupials.
Its common name is inappropriate, as it is neither a rodent like the porcupine nor an edentate proper like the ant-eater, though it has the spiny covering of the one and the toothless jaws of the other; in some districts it is called the hedgehog, which is equally inapplicable, as the dentition of the insectivora is not represented in this animal; perhaps, however, the name here given, originally imposed by Shaw, is the best that could be selected. It is now very rare.
Porcupine Ant-Eater (Echidna aculeata).