The Zoological Society of London just revised their EDGE list of the world’s most unique and endangered animals. Topping that list are three species of echidnas: Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), the Eastern long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni), and the Western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii). Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna was thought to have gone extinct until members of the Zoological Society of London discovered surviving specimens in 2007.
What intrigued me about this report was the actual name of the endangered species list used by the Zoological Society of London. EDGE stands for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered. That spurred me to delve into the evolutionary history of the echidna, since it is such an enigma of an animal, but first let us look at what makes the echidna so distinct.
Echidna’s are found in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea and have a number of traits that make them different from most other mammals. That list of traits includes:
- Long toothless mouth
- Lays eggs like birds, reptiles and amphibians
- Cloaca instead of multiple orifices
- Four-headed male sex organ
- Multiple sets of sex chromosomes
- Nurses its young without breasts
Echidnas belong to the mammalian order Monotremata. The only other member of the Monotremata is the platypus, which in its own right is just as unique as the echidna. Monotremata is Greek for single hole, referring to them having a cloaca like birds and reptiles. Echidnas have only one orifice from which they excrete solid and liquid waste, used for sexual reproduction and egg laying. Except for the platypus, all other mammals have separate orifices for excreting waste products and for sexual reproduction.
Most mammals have one set of sex chromosomes, XX for female and XY for male. Researchers have discovered that echidnas may have four or more pairs of sex chromosomes, some of which are XX, some XY and some different altogether. According to one source, the other sex chromosomes somewhat resemble those found in birds.
One characteristic unique to mammals is the ability to produce milk and nurse their young. This is accomplished with developed breasts with an external teat (even in marine mammals such as whales and dolphins). However, echidnas do not have breasts or teats. They nurse their young through a hairy patch of skin on their belly that basically oozes the milk that the young lap up.
There is no doubt that the echidna is a strange creature. From experience, the stranger the animal the more difficult it is for evolutionists to explain how they evolved and the echidna is a prime example.
One source I found said, “Echidnas probably evolved from some unknown monotreme ancestor during the Paleogene Period (65.5 to 23 million years ago).”1
Another source says, “…platypus and echidna diverged from the same ancestor between 19 and 48 million years ago.”2 This article goes on to say that the reason evolutionary ancestor to the echidna was more platypus-like than echidna, which is why there are no echidna fossils older than 13 millions years ago. All of this is based on DNA analysis of living echidnas.
DNA is a marvelous tool in forensics for convicting the guilty and freeing the innocent, but one has to question the validity of evolutionary assumptions made on DNA analysis. Over the years, I have seen reports that claim that humans not only share a lot of DNA with chimpanzees, but also with some sponges and grasses. So would these same researchers say that we once lived in the ocean bottom and then majestically waved on endless plains before climbing trees and scratching armpits?
In all of the literature I found, it was quite apparent that echidna’s show up suddenly in the fossil record as recognizable echidnas. There are no intermediates between the platypus and echidna except in the minds of researchers reading things into DNA that aren’t there.
As God was creating all of the different land animals on Day 6 of Creation, He knew that in time evolutionists would try to cut Him out of the picture by claiming how much one animal had in common with another. I often wonder if because of them, He purposely created animals like the echidna and platypus to be an enigma to the evolutionists for they do defy any attempt to make their ancestors out to be anything other than what they are, echidnas and platypuses.
- Echidna, Encyclopedia Britannica, britannica.com.
- Dani Cooper, “Echidna’s Ancestor Swam With Platypuses”, DiscoveryNews.com, Sept 22, 2009.