Echidnas have a low metabolic rate, and energy expenditure is reduced even further by the use of torpor and hibernation. Thus, echidnas appear to lie at the slow extreme of the fast–slow continuum, and this is reflected in many aspects of echidna life history: a long life, a long lactation period, and a single young that matures late. Reproductive activity occurs in mid-winter, shortly after arousal from hibernation. After a pregnancy of about 3 weeks the female lays a single egg into her pouch that hatches after 10–11 d. Initially, the young is incubated in the pouch. Later, it is left in the nursery burrow while the mother forages for ants, termites, and other invertebrates. Lactation lasts for 150–200 d, the duration differing significantly between geographic regions. Growth rates during late lactation are very high, and, when weaned, the young has reached about 40% of adult mass. The young loses mass before entering its first hibernation, which extends from early autumn to late spring. The young echidna reaches adult mass after about 3–5 years.
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Vol. 14 • No. 3