From: Editor, ENN
Published June 10, 2009 12:16 PM

First study on rare egg laying mammals

A study, recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy, chronicles the behaviors of the long-beaked echidna (also called the spiny anteater), the first mammal to lay eggs. The study was conducted by a Wildlife Conservation Society research intern, Muse Opiang, working in the wilderness of Papua New Guinea. The long-beaked echidna is widespread in the montane forests of New Guinea and finds refuge in hollow logs, root or rack cavities, and burrows.

The long-beaked echidna population has greatly declined. Reportedly, the major reason for the species decline is hunting, since it is considered to be a highly prized game animal.

"The limited information on the long-beaked echidna's biology, feeding behavior and ecology has prevented conservationists from formulating plans for protecting this elusive and threatened animal," said Dr. Ross Sinclair, Director of WCS's Papua New Guinea program. "The research methods developed by Opiang and the data he gathered can now help us to manage and protect this rare and species."

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Opiang managed to capture 22 individual echidnas, affixing radio transmitters to their ankles, and tracking them for up to 96 acres. The study also located over 200 den sites.

"All of the time and effort invested in the study has paid off with new insights into the natural history of this seldom seen and unusual mammal," said Opiang. "These findings will help inform conservation strategies for the species, which is threatened by hunting and habitat loss."

A Press Release published by EurekAlert highlights the following information about the long-beaked echidna:
* The echidnas are members of the monotremes, an order of mammals that lay leathery eggs, as opposed to placental and marsupial mammals, both groups of which give birth to live young.
* Echidnas and platypuses are more reptile-like than other mammals, with features such as: a more sprawling gait; and a single opening for depositing waste and facilitating reproduction.
* Echidnas lay a single egg, which the female holds in a sticky pouch. The hatchling resides in the pouch for between 40-50 days and receives milk from two mammary patches (echidnas have no teats).
* Once the hatchling develops spines, the mother digs a nursery; the mother returns every five days to nurse the hatchling. The baby is weaned in seven months.

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