On a scale of zero to 'seriously, Australia?', the echidna just about tops the chart. These spine-covered enigmas lay eggs like birds, have elongated snouts, keep their young in pouches, and are the owners of some downright terrifying genitalia (here you go – because we know you're going to google it anyway). Perhaps unsurprisingly, echidna courtship is also pretty odd (in an adorable, look-at-those-beak-faced-hedgehogs-go kind of way).



Maren Norris – a resident on Kangaroo Island off the mainland of South Australia – recently captured footage of a rarely witnessed echidna "mating train". When a female echidna emerges from hibernation, lovelorn males will rush over and form a line behind her, snout to tail, hoping for a chance to put their ultra-weird wedding tackle to use. As many as 10 eager suitors will form a train behind a female, following her eagerly for up to six weeks, sometimes making advances by nudging her tail. Eventually, the female will signal her readiness to mate by partially digging her front legs and head into the ground at the base of a tree or bush. Then comes part two of this colourful ritual.

The male echidnas begin digging a trench alongside the eligible female, sometimes digging all the way around the bush or tree to form an 18-25-centimetre (7-10-inch) donut-shaped rut. With the female in the centre like a trophy on display, the males go head-to-head in the trench trying to push each other aside until a lone victor remains in the ring. He will go on to mate with the female (that is, if other males haven't already pulled a fast one).

Some theories suggest that the males line up in order of dominance with the most supreme monotreme winning out in the end, but it's likely that more than one male will wind up mating with any given female. Echidnas are promiscuous creatures and research indicates that females take on multiple partners. "They have group sex - one female and many males," Gemma Morrow a zoologist from the University of Tasmania bluntly told ABC News. "That's basically because there's not as many reproductively active females as males because females don't reproduce every year." In fact, some sneaky males will even try their luck with a female while she's still hibernating (which seems a bit rude to say the least).

Echidnas on the move. Image © Maren Norris

Around 22 days after mating, the impregnated female lays an egg which is transferred to a secure pouch similar to a kangaroo's. Ten days later, a 1.5-centimetre (0.6-inch) puggle (yes, that's what baby echidnas are called) will hatch and begin the journey from one end of the pouch of the other to claim its first meal. For the first seven months of its life the puggle will drink milk which it gets from patches located on the front end of the pouch (patches, because apparently nipples would be too conventional for an echidna). When the young echidna reaches maturity, it'll be left in a burrow to fend for itself.

One of only two mammals that lay eggs (the other is the duck-billed platypus), short-beaked echidnas are found throughout Australia, while their longer-beaked relatives are found in New Guinea. The oddball animals prefer cooler temperatures, so they are sometimes only active at night making it tricky to spot them in the wild (except in one recent incident involving a thirsty echidna that broke into a liquor store, sampled the produce, and took a nap under some shelving).

Ah, echidnas. Don't ever change.

Top header image: Laurence Barnes, Flickr