Andrea Wallage, Lauren Clarke, Lindy Thomas, Michael Pyne, Lyn Beard, Arthur Ferguson, Allan Lisle, Stephen Johnston
Australian Journal of Zoology 63 (3), 181-191, (27 July 2015) https://doi.org/10.1071/ZO14069
KEYWORDS: husbandry, thermoregulation
Captive breeding of the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) has proven a difficult challenge; as recently as 2009, there were fewer than 10 echidnas born in captivity. We present observations of captive reproductive behaviour following video surveillance and measurements of body temperature collected from six captive female echidnas over a six-year period. In the first series of observations (2009–10) we examined the efficacy of artificial burrow boxes as possible aids for reproductive success. Females with access to burrow boxes had significantly higher levels of reproductive activity (P = 0.001), there was coincidental improvement in the production of eggs or pouch young (two eggs, one unhatched and one offspring). During 2009–10, a range of reproductive behaviours (courtship, copulation and postcopulation) were documented and analysed, as were new observations of oestrous cycle activity. Female body temperature was characteristically stable during egg incubation during this study and has the potential to be used as a tool for the assessment of reproductive status. Following initial observations, burrow boxes and infrared lamps were implemented as standard husbandry in our echidna breeding facility and the effects on reproductive success were monitored, albeit less intensively, for a further four years (2011–14). Although no direct causal effect could be ascribed, the use of burrow boxes and heat lamps coincided with a total of 13 young being born to four females in the last four years (2011–14). These female echidnas were found to be receptive at intervals throughout the breeding season, both before and after presumed incubation phases, suggesting that captive animals exhibit polyoestry. In 2012 and 2014, the same female showed evidence of producing two young from one breeding event.