Echidna Believed Extinct in Australia May Still Exist

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A species of echidna thought to have been wiped from the face of Australia tens of thousands of years ago may still exist on the continent after all, according to LiveScience. What has led to this conclusion? An important specimen that's been sitting ignored in a museum drawer for more than 100 years.



Kristofer Helgen, a zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., discovered the new-old evidence while visiting the Natural History Museum in London. There he found a well-preserved, well-documented long-beaked echidna that had been killed on a mountain in Australia, taxidermied and tagged in 1901, which apparently is the last time anyone gave the specimen a thought. Until now.

The long-beaked echidna is an endangered species believed to exist only in New Guinea, although during the last ice age, when New Guinea and Australia were part of the same land mass, the echidna would have lived in what is now Australia. But that was 30,000 years ago or more.

Helgen's discovery provides hope that, even 102 years after the mostly recently seen long-beaked echidna was found, the species may still exist in Australia. Following up on the new evidence, Helgen and his team visited Australian aboriginal communities, where some claimed to recall having seen long-beaked echidnas. "What's amazing about this study is it all hinges on a single specimen," Helgen said.

Helgen and his team have their work cut out for them. Even if there are more echidnas to be found on the continent, they will be extremely difficult to find due to their few numbers, their nocturnal habits and their extreme shyness.

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