Many native animals are scarcer than they were many years ago, but the echidna is more common now than it has ever been. Why would this be?
An increase in numbers of most animals is due to increased availability of food, but this seems unlikely to be the case for the echidna.
The majority of the echidna’s food is ants and termites. It is said to be able to survive wherever there is an adequate supply of ants. Other invertebrates such as grubs, beetles and worms are also eaten, but ants and termites are the mainstay of an echidna’s diet.
With land clearance - including continued deterioration of native vegetation on roadsides – wide usage of herbicides and pesticides on agricultural land, increased ploughing, and continued abundance of feral cats and foxes, it seems that the echidna population should be declining, but this is not the case.
Not only are echidnas being reported more frequently, but they are also being seen at places where they have never been seen before.
On the western plains, echidnas have been seen long distances from trees - at Pitfield Plains and Mena Park, for example.
A study would be needed to determine their main food in altered agricultural land, where ploughed soils and monocultures predominate, and where native ants and termites would be very much reduced.
A similar increase has been reported from Balmoral in far western Victoria, where the soils, climate, altitude and dominant trees are different from those closer to Ballarat. Echidnas shelter in hollow logs, stump holes, burrows and under shrubs and tussocks.
Any readers’ suggestions for solving the mystery of increasing echidnas would be appreciated.
The season’s first early wattle blossom has been seen, and the first blackbird has been heard.
These are not signs of an early spring, but they are welcome nevertheless.
Our favourite patch for the first golden wattle - at Adelaide Lead, south-west of Maryborough - has not disappointed this year, and the season’s first Cootamundra wattles – at Invermay - once again produced their first sprays of flowers in the last few days of June.
Both of these spots can be relied upon for “first” sightings every winter.
While blackbirds will not produce their full song until early spring, their first subdued attempts have already been heard.
There have been no reports yet of birds nesting or carrying nest material, apart from white ibises at Lake Wendouree.