Tasmanian Shortbeaked Echidna- WikiCommons

What’s an Echidna?

This article was the first one I worked up for my then future blog/website. I had done my original research while preparing for an assignment from my writing school in late 2011. These adorable creatures still have a special place in my heart and I’d love to see some in their natural environment one day!

from WikiCommons

Tasmanian Shortbeaked Echidna

I was reading animal science with my kids the other day and ran into an animal I had never heard of before. I love home schooling!

The Echidna (Ih-kid-nuh) is classified in the same group of animals as the Platypus (for you older guys, look up Monotreme to find out why). It seems like Australia gets the really bizarre land critters because the short-beaked Echidna lives in Australia as well as Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and the lowlands of New Guinea [that’s the whole island including the countries Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea]. They grow to be a foot to 15” [30-40cm] long and weigh between 4.5 to 15 lb [2-7 kg].

The long-beaked Echidna only lives in New Guinea and is a lot bigger than its Australian cousin. They can weigh up to 35lb and the average size is 20lb. Another difference is that the long-beaked Echidna is usually nocturnal, probably because that’s when its food is active.

Scientists find animals like these confusing because they don’t fit into any of their tidy groups of animals*.  Echidnas have fur and quills like a hedgehog. Male Echidnas have a poison gland in their hind feet like the platypus. That’s why they got the Greek name for ‘adder’. But Echidna poison isn’t very dangerous, so they prefer to escape predators by rolling into a spiny ball like an Armadillo.

Shortbeaked Echidna in dirt, photo credit: Brian W. SchallerThey are also amazingly fast diggers, able to throw dirt left and right about as fast as a man with a shovel can dig. Their hind feet point backward to help them get dirt out of the way even faster. This allows them to quickly hide their soft-furred underbelly and only leave their quill covered back exposed. When it’s time to hibernate, Echidnas will burrow down to a comfortable spot, but if enough leaf litter is around, they may live completely above ground.

Usually an animal this size has a life span of about 12 years, but not the Echidna! At zoos, Echidnas often live to 50 years old and one wild one is known to have survived for 45 years.

Mother Echidnas develop a pouch in time to place their newly laid egg in. After ten days a half-inch long baby hatches and licks milk from milk patches inside the pouch like a kangaroo. Since the baby, named a Puggle, is only partially developed when it hatches, it is hairless at first. When the baby’s prickles grow stiff enough to be annoying, the mom makes the little one get out but continues to nurse it until the young one is six to seven months old.

English: Short-beaked Echidna Skeleton Articul...

Short-Beaked Echidna Skeleton

As cool as all these things are, one of the craziest things I found out about the Echidna is their skulls. They look a lot like the nozzle of a liquid soap dispenser! They have eye socket holes and a really long snout all in one piece. The lower jaw is just as long but shaped like a narrow V.

Echidnas have no teeth, instead they use their tongues to snag their food into their tiny 0.2” [0.5cm] mouths. The long-beaked Echidna of New Guinea has spikes along a groove of their tongue [think Velcro] that it uses to pull earthworms and occasionally termites or ants in with. Then its spiny tongue wriggles the food back up the snout to swallow.

The Australian short-beaked Echidna has a tongue that is so fast we gave this variety the Latin name Tachyglossus aculeatus. Which just means ‘fast tongue’. Instead of barbs, short-beaked Echidnas are equipped with saliva sticky enough to lick up the ants and termites it eats. This diet gave it the old common name Spiny Anteater. Like the Giant Anteater, Echidnas use their tongues to crush the bugs against bony plates along the top of their skulls to kill and soften the ants before swallowing.

Since their main diet is ants and termites, Echidnas live in a wide range of environments. They are found in most areas of Australia except where it is very hot. The long-beaked New Guinea Echidna lives all the way up to the snowy regions of the mountains. When it gets cold, these Echidnas will hibernate in a burrow much like a squirrel does.

Long-beaked Echidna

Long-Beaked Echidna

The long-beaked Echidnas of New Guinea are endangered because they are apparently quite tasty, so in many places they’re only found up high now. The Australian short-beaked Echidna is in better shape, as Australians seek to protect this small national treasure God has given them.

We’ve only found a few Echidna fossils, but, guess what?  They are still Echidnas, only some fossils show they used to be way bigger than the ones alive today.

All the pictures I could find of baby Echidnas are copyrighted, so head over to the Perth Zoo page to see how they look.

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:25

*I read where one guy thinks monotremes are examples of “transitional species” partly evolved between one form and another.

At the same time, scientists know the Echidna is well adapted to survive in its environment today. A transitional species would have many features that do it no good now, only becoming useful after million years.

Websites I used to write this article:

You might enjoy visiting these:

Australian Animals

San Diego Zoo

Close up of an Echidna Skull

All the rest:

http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/BHAN-5357K5?open

http://science.jrank.org/pages/6392/Spiny-Anteaters.html

Interesting chart of similarities and differences between Echidnas, porcupines, and hedgehogs:

http://www.echidna.org.uk/details.html

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Tachyglossus_aculeatus.html

http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/monotremefr.html

Uluru: One Cool Inselberg, Part 1

Uluru at Dawn

A while back I started wondering about the way two famous formations, Devils Tower in Wyoming and Uluru in Australia were formed. Now, I’m sharing what I’ve found with you!

Turns out some similarities but a lot of differences between these two formations, so I’ll have to talk about them separately. Let’s start with the things they have in common.

Both of these mountains are in the class of formations known as Inselbergs from German meaning “island-mountains”.

Many Inselbergs are granite or other hard rocks that were left standing when the softer rock around was washed away. But the two places I’ve chosen out (and others like them around the world) are made of rock that got pushed up from under the ground. They also (surprise, surprise) needed water around to help them take the form we see today. Interestingly, both of these monuments are in very dry areas today, so things must have been different in the past or they wouldn’t be here.

Now, let’s look at Uluru:

CS4K-Uluru

I first heard about how land formations like Uluru in Australia were formed from Dr. Walt Brown’s book. He has a lot to say about it and explains how these kinds of formations are only possible with quiet water covering them. Do check his page out, he has some amazing pictures!

He calls sedimentary stone formations like these “liquifaction mounds (or plumes [if they’re skinny]).”  Liquifaction takes up a large part of Dr. Brown’s book and he gets very detailed.

Basically, water can hold a lot of tiny bits of rock  under the right conditions, and then let them fall in a very quick and orderly way. We see layers like this everywhere in sedimentary rocks, usually laid down like sheets of pastry in a baklava or a torte.

Here at Uluru, something different was happening as well. Uluru is made out of all different kinds of sand cemented together.

Wikipedia tells us Uluru’s sandstones “show little sorting based on grain size, exhibit very little rounding and the feldspars in the rock are relatively fresh in appearance.”

Feldspar is very common rock making up about 60% of the Earth. These bits of sand didn’t have a chance to get rounded like the sand along the ocean or a lake. This shows that they were freshly broken up from whatever rock they came from originally (probably granite) and didn’t spend very long being washed around in water before settling into their form today.

Wikipedia claims that Uluru formed from an “alluvial fan”, which means a river delta.  At least they got the water part right! But have you ever seen a delta with great humps of rock left behind without being worn right back down? To avoid the flood they still have to believe in a unique water event depositing the rock but never happening again to wash it away.

CS4K-Lake_amadeus

Lake Amadeus’ white salt bed

From Dr. Brown’s studies, it seems that layers of wet sand were caught underground with enough pressure to squeeze out of cracks up to the surface when there was a chance.  He figures there were probably lots more of these muddy piles formed during the Flood, but most of them were washed away by the water sloshing around.

But where Uluru is, there was an area of trapped, quiet water which gave the sand time to cement into stone.  We know that a water basin was there because the salt bed, now called Lake Amadeus, these kinds of Flood-water-lakes leave behind is just 31miles [50km] away down the valley.Kat Tjuta Olgas, WikiCommons

If you look at Dr. Brown’s page and this page of Uluru’s 36 sister mounds The Olgas-Kata Tjuta  (25km [16mi] to the west of Uluru) you will see something very interesting about these rocks.  They once had acne really badly… or, rather, they are filled with pock marks all around the sides.

This is what Think Quest is telling kids about Uluru: They start with the “500 million years” bit, then mention that it was formed underwater! I picked this page because it mentions that the Aborigines remember that Uluru was once in an ocean.  Just what we were expecting.

He puts forth his hand upon the rock; he overturns the mountains by the roots. He cuts out rivers among the rocks; and his eye sees every precious thing. He binds the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid brings he forth to light.
Job 28:9-11

Article on Devils Tower HERE

South American Lungfish

Lungfish, way more genes than you have!

Ever heard of these creatures? Have you seen them in a picture showing the evolutionary story of the development of life? Let’s have a look at what these fish are really like!

English: Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus for...

Australian lungfish

There odnce were many different varieties of Lungfish in the waters all around the Pre-Flood world. Have a look at the size of one we’ve found in Nebraska!   Even today they can live for a very long time.  One Australian Lungfish, called Granddad, has been living at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago since 1933 and he was already grown up (at least 17) when he moved in!

Today there are two main types left living in the freshwaters of South America, Africa and Australia. The ones living in South America and Africa are closer to each other than to the Australian variety, but all of them set a puzzle for scientists trying to figure how animals changed from one variety to another. First, have a look at this picture: African on top, South American next, and Australian on the bottom. Let’s look at how these fish are the same and different.

Kunda Man Trying to Catch a Protopterus, Luang...

Kunda Man Trying to Catch a Protopterus, Luangwa Valley (Zambia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Australian Lungfish aka Queensland Lungfish has big scales, grows to 1.5m (almost 5ft) nowadays, and has only one lung. I found a computer graphic showing how Lungfish’s lungs fit into their bodies. If you’ve studied human anatomy, you know that this is pretty different from how our lungs work!  Most of the time, the Australian Lungfish uses its gills to breathe. But during times of low water, they will gulp air into their lung and continue to survive in remaining puddles.

The African Lungfish comes in 4 varieties. The Marbled lungfish can grow up to 2m (6’6″) long while the Gilled Lungfish only grows to 44cm (2ft) long.  All four varieties have long, thin fins that look more like whiskers than limbs.

South American lungfish

South American lungfish

The South American Lungfish has almost no side fins at all except at the back. In the dry season, both the African and South American Lungfish will burrow into the mud and surround themselves with a mucus “cocoon” to hibernate until the water levels rise again. These varieties have two lungs which they have to use to breathe air all the time or they will drown.

All lungfish can slow down their metabolisms and hibernate at 1/60th of their normal body processes when water is scarce. They are predators feeding on fish, frogs, crayfish, mollusks, insects and anything else they can catch. Their “teeth” are really cool looking extensions of their very hard jaws. Mostly they crush food to make it small enough to swallow. When people keep Lungfish, they have to have a separate tank for them unless the other fish are quite large. They also have to be careful not to have anything else of swallowable size in the tank!

Baby Lungfish look a lot like tadpoles and breathe through gills (the South American and African babies have eternal gills).

BTW, the Lungfish has the largest genome of any Vertebrate that we’ve tested so far (a Japanese Flower holds the world record at the moment). Does that mean they’re the best and most developed?

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.  And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. Genesis 1:21-23

The Who Zoo has a interesting page on Fish Fins that will help you spot all the variety that God has thought up for His watery creatures.

Answers in Genesis has an article talking about a study of Lungfish “walking”

And the Institute for Creation Research has an article about the Lungfish and other Fish that have been named as our “ancestors.”

Today’s Quotes:

New World Encyclopedia:  “The fact that lungfish would be placed in the same class as such diverse animals as eagles, alligators, and chimpanzees, but not with sharks or salmon, shows the emphasis placed on lineage in current taxonomy.” That’s about as close to laughing at other scientists as you’re allowed to do or risk losing your job.

Animal World, “These fish would make Darwin proud as they are said to be one of the oldest documented fish dating back millions of years and documented through fossils.”  I don’t think so. Darwin wasn’t arguing for animals staying exactly the same since the dawn of time!