He’s prickly, with beady little eyes, curving claws and a long snout covered in dirt. But you can’t deny that Kai, a short-beaked echidna puggle born last December at Perth Zoo in Australia, is totally cute. The sixth echidna born at the zoo since 2007, Kai was photographed as a tiny, naked (and admittedly not so cute) baby before being placed back in his nursery burrow, but the zoo has given us another glimpse.
Echidnas are among the five species of monotremes, which are mammals that lay eggs. A better-known example of a monotreme is the perplexing platypus. A mother echidna incubates a single egg for just 11 days before it hatches, and the tiny baby echidna is carried around in her pouch for two months. The mother then deposits the baby in a ‘nursery burrow’, backfilling the burrow with dirt and returning every few days to feed it.
Short-beaked echidnas are difficult to breed in captivity, making Kai even more special. “Temperature plays an important role in many stages in the echidna’s breeding cycle from producing the egg and incubating it, to keeping the puggle safe in a burrow and developing well,” says Perth Zoo’s Australian Fauna Supervisor Arthur Ferguson.
The zoo began studying echidna’s reproductive habits a few years ago. The research they do may help to save the short-beaked echidna’s endangered cousin, the long-beaked echidna.