'Monotremes' or 'Egg-laying mammals'

Monotremes are animals that have most characteristics of a mammal: they have fur and they suckle their young. But there is one major difference: Unlike mammals monotremes don't give birth to living young but they lay eggs like birds do. There are only three species of monotremes: the Platypus and two kinds of Echidna. They only live in Australia and New Guinea.

The Platypus

The Platypus lives in rivers and streams in eastern Australia. It needs completely undisturbed and unpolluted water, that's why it's endangered in quita a lot of areas. The Platypus is about 50 cm long and weighs up to 2 kg.
Platypuses build tunnels in the riverbank where they live and nurse their youngs. A female Platypus lays 1 to 3 eggs and incubates them for 10 to 14 days between her belly and her curled-up tail. Then the youngs suckle milk from their mother.
Platypuses mostly live under water. They come out only to eat, what they caught, and to clean and groom themselves.

When a Platypus is diving, its eyes, ears and nostrils are closed. It finds its food, which consits of yabbies and other small water animals, with the help of a sensory sytem. It can detect even minor electrical pulses, that every animal generates when it's moving its muscles. This sensor array is housed in the Platypus' bill. So a Platypus is actually blind under water, but it tracks its prey with its sensitive bill. When it has found food, it stores it in its cheek pouches until it gets back to the surface.
There are many thing still unknown about Platypuses, for example why the males have a sharp spur on each ankle or how their sensory system works exactly.

The Echidna

There a two species of Echidna: The Long-beaked Echidna, that inhabits the highlands of New Guinea and the Short-beaked Echidna, that lives in Australia. The Short-beaked Echidna can live in the most different environments from all native Australian mammals. Echidnas are like Platypusses about 50 cm long but they can weigh up to 7 kg.
Echidnas feed on ants and termites, which they lap up with their long sticky tongue. With their powerful paws and claws, they can easily break into their prey's nests.
For protection Echidnas have a sharp spiny coat, like European hedgehogs, and like hedgegogs they roll into a ball and cover their head when there's danger approaching. The spines are also used as 'extra-fingers': They are controlled by special muscles and can help the Echidna to right itself or to to climb up the fork of a tree.

Echidnas are quite intelligent. They have a large brain which has a lot of connections in it. Tests have shown, that Echidnas learn quickly, get better with practice and remember very well. They are about as intelligent as cats or rats.
Like Platypuses, Echidnas lay eggs. After hatching, the puggle (as baby Echidnas are called) grows very fast. It is kept in a pouch of the mother's belly. When it is 50-60 days old, it must leave the pouch and is left in a hiding-place. During that time the young is alone very much and begins to grow fur and spines. When it is 7 months old, it already looks like an adult Echidna. Now it is weaned and learns how to find food on his own.
There is still very little knowledge about Echidnas.

Literature I used:

Peggy Roesmiller: The Echidna. Australia's Enigma
Terence Lindsey: Mammals of Australia

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