Sometimes known as the spiny ant eater, the echidna is one of only three species of monotreme (mammals that lay eggs) in the world with the platypus being one and the other being an echidna restricted to the highlands of New Guinea. They're common and widespread throughout most of Australia and can be found in a natural environment of open heathlands and forests and particularly common in dry open country on the east coast of Tasmania. Echidnas grow to approximately 45cm in length and weigh anywhere between 2kg and 5kg but what makes this little creature so interesting is its body which is covered with cream coloured spines which are in fact modified hairs and which can reach to 50mm in length. Fur ranging in colour from honey to reddish-brown and growing between the spines provides insulation. What I found interesting when doing my research is the fact that Tasmanian echidnas are larger than their mainland relatives and that the fur is thicker and longer than those in warmer mainland areas which sometimes actually conceals the spines. Because these spines are very sharp and can cause infections, echidnas should not be picked up without some form of skin protection.
The echidna has short limbs and powerful claws which prove very handy for rapid digging and elongated claws on their hind feet which curve backwards enable them to clean and groom themselves. They are surprisingly good swimmers able to paddle with only their snout and a few spines showing. Its long sensitive snout hunts for a diet of ants and termites and its strong claws tear open the ant or termite nest and any insects in the nest are caught on its fast moving tongue which is covered with a layer of sticky mucous.
This shy little fellow moves slowly and carefully with a 'waddle' like gait and its activity differs depending on the location and temperature. It is completely nocturnal in the warmer parts of Australia preferring to spend the daytime resting out in the heat sheltered in rotten logs, under bushes or in burrows whereas in the southern parts of Australia and particularly during winter, echidnas are active during the day. They can live anywhere as long as there is a supply of ants and despite its thorny covering, this animal does have natural predators such as eagles and Tasmanian devils which, believe it or not, will actually eat the spines.
There is one thing that quite amazes me with the echidna and, to some extent, even makes me a little jealous. You see, when threatened by a predator, this clever little creature has the ability to disguise itself by rolling up into a little ball and seeking shelter usually under a bush, in a hollow log, burrow or such. How many times in life, when faced with bad news and/or nasty and unpleasant situations (as well as nasty and unpleasant people) would it be so easy to just curl ourselves up in a ball and roll somewhere safe and hide where we didn't have to deal with such problems and hope that the world would just go away.
My designs contains 10 colours with two colours used as long stitches to denote spines, a pink tongue and black french knot eyes with backstitching only around the beak and claws. Ideally sized for a card, this design would be perfect for depicting our natural Australian native fauna.
'Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it' - Confucius