BIODIVERSITY HERITAGE LIBRARY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY BIODIVERSITY HERITAGE LIBRARY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Echidnas, sometimes known as spiny anteaters, belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. The four extant species, together with the platypus, are the only surviving members of that order and are the only extant mammals that lay eggs. Their diet consists of ants and termites, but they are not closely related to the true anteaters of the Americas. They live in Australia and New Guinea. Echidnas evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago, descending from a platypus-like monotreme. This ancestor was aquatic, but echidnas adapted to life on land. The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semiaquatic mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. The unusual appearance of this egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European.
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