First short-beaked echidna puggle in Prague!

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  26. 06. 2021

In Greek mythology the Echidna was half-woman and half-serpent. This is an excellent choice. Echidnas are very old and at first glance look like a sort of overgrown hedgehog or a small porcupine, however, although they are mammals, they still exhibit a number of reptilian traits, such as the presence of a cloaca, egg-laying and the inability to maintain a constant body temperature. However, a list of the remarkable features associated with echidnas would be very long indeed, starting with its extremely long tongue and ending with a penis glans that has four rosettes. It is, in short, a very strange yet fascinating animal.

Foto: Miroslav Bobek, Zoo Praha Foto: Miroslav Bobek, Zoo Praha

And now Prague Zoo can boast its first ever baby short-beaked echidna! Last Tuesday, when the puggle was 70 days old, keeper David Vala and curator Pavel Brandl weighed it for the first time. It was six grams short of a quarter of a kilo. That was also when the first photos were taken, one of which accompanies this article.

When I write photos, I mean pictures taken with a camera. However, a few weeks before they were taken, David Vala had already started collecting images from the night camera placed in the female’s “burrow” and had sent us samples of them. Not that I could distinguish much from them, I felt like when a doctor shows me an X-ray with some vague smudges. But on the 44th day after the female had successfully completed incubating her bean-sized egg, the puggle first peeped out of her pouch. Now it was a completely different story. I too finally recognized something in the video and screenshots. That was 20th May. (The day after that, the Ice Hockey World Cup began, which David and Pavel watched in parallel with watching the baby echidna develop, and in their delight over our team's victory over the Swedes, they began calling it Vrána in honour of our forward.)

Our little echidna is truly stunning, I think everyone must agree when looking at its photo. But at the same time, we should bear in mind that we had echidnas at Prague Zoo from 1954 to 2004 and we have been keeping them again since 2011 – and this is the very first baby! In the last century, there was just one short-beaked echidna that was successfully raised in the whole of Europe, and in this century just three zoos, including the one in Pilsen, have managed to raise them. Let’s hope we can join them.

As I mentioned, we weighed the puggle at 70 days. By that time, it was its third day out of the female’s pouch. Today it’s 81 days old. However, we will not be able to consider it to be raised until it is no longer dependent on its mother’s milk and switches to solid food, which occurs at roughly nine months of age. Thus, if I’m doing the maths right, that should be sometime around Christmas. So, keep your fingers crossed and we may have a wonderful Christmas present!