Not so long ago I woke up to the sound of the dogs barking frantically at an echidna. They seem to take something about the way a spiny anteater moves as an affront to reality. The little heaves among the sharp spines it makes as each leg moves forward are an insult, as is the delicate pointed snout, and its intensely pointy coating.
The dogs didn’t actually touch it, but they will bark for hours, dodging forward and backwards while it peaceably digs itself in and waits her out. I’ve heard that dogs can damage an echidna’s delicate nose, but they never actually get that close, or I would keep them away more effectively.
I shut the dogs in the bedroom and watched through the window as it bumped its way along the wall. The eyes must be very bad, because it didn’t seem to see me. Or didn’t care. After every two or three steps it would pause and test right, left, then go on two or three steps, pause again, go on again.
When it came to drop at the top of the steps it poked its head over and considered for a while. I could see its tiny eyes blinking ridiculously far up the long snout, then it turned and went around. When it found itself wedged between an upturned plastic table (waiting to have its legs removed for storage) it paused for a lot longer. I finally realized it was drinking from the rainwater puddled inside. When I peered more closely I could see the tiny pink tongue dipping in and out. It splashed around some more, found the edge of the drop again and then trundled away around the corner, its back-to-front claws making leisurely progress.
I’ve been seeing some divots in the garden where it has been digging, especially around rocks and our termite-ridden fence posts. I twisted my ankle in one such hole last year, before I learned to look out for them. It still amuses me to be tripped up by an echidna.
The dogs went back to barking after they found it again under the new stairs. After a while I took them inside again to give it a rest and time to move off again. By the afternoon it was around by the back of the Annexe rootling around in the woodpile. Probably a more likely place to find delicious termites than around a plastic table and concrete paving.
They can move fast when they want to. Shane the Pump Wizard complained that when he was making the new trench for the garden water, an echidna (probably the same one) rushed over and threw itself into the trench. A job of laying plastic pressure pipe that should have taken five minutes took forty because unfortunately, any approach he made (such as trying to lever it out with a spade) just made it dig itself in further. Eventually it decided to leave and he could go on with the pipe-laying.
I’d love to be able to work out where they nest and lay their eggs. A decade ago there was a baby one (probably the same one) we would see in the garden. It don’t know if this is the grown up baby or another, since I freely admit they all look pretty much the same – spiky. I’ve occasionally seen one out in the paddock wedged up under a rock overhang, but never going in or out of a hole. I’ll have to find a day to follow one around, but leave the dogs behind.