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Egg-laying mammal rediscovered

JJHarrison / Wikimedia Commons The short-beaked echidna, which lives in Australia and New GuineaJJHarrison / Wikimedia Commons

There is a common question in trivia games: what mammal has spines and a beak, eats ants, and lays eggs? The answer is the echidna (Zaglossus sp.). On the final day of an expedition led by biologists from the University of Oxford, UK, cameras recorded one of these strange creatures, of the species Z. attenboroughi (Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna), in an unexplored area of forest in northern Indonesia. The four 3-second clips showed that the species is not extinct, as was feared. Previously, the only proof of its existence was a dead specimen collected 62 years ago and stored at Naturalis natural history museum in the Netherlands. The four extant species of echidnas and the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), found in Australia and New Guinea, are the only living mammals that lay eggs. Attenborough’s long-billed echidna and the western long-billed echidna (Z. bruijni) are considered critically endangered. Adults measure an average of 30 centimeters in length and have a long, sticky tongue that they use to catch ants and termites. Solitary and nocturnal, they curl up into a ball or quickly dig a hole when they sense danger (BBC News, November 10).