Meet the echidna: it feasts on ants, has a four-headed penis, and is infested with some of the largest fleas on earth. In other words, not exactly the ideal house pet. The primitive, egg-laying mammal – a close cousin of the duck-billed platypus – could easily rival the blobfish as the world’s ugliest animal, at least in its hairless newborn state pictured here.
The Australia Zoo in Queensland recently released this photo of its new puggle (as baby echidnas — also known as spiny anteaters — are called) about a month after the critter was born in August. According to the zoo, the little guy now weighs just under a third of a pound, “is growing steadily,” and is one of just 24 echidnas ever born in captivity.
Spiny anteaters only inhabit Australia and New Guinea, where they are actually fairly common. But they’re unique in that they are one of just a handful of members of the very small order of mammals known as monotremes, which lay eggs like reptiles, but are warm-blooded, have hair, and produce milk like other mammals. The mother lays each egg in a pouch, then carries the egg for about ten days before it hatches. For the next two months, she feeds the puggle nestled in her pouch by secreting milk directly onto her skin.
As the puggle grows into an adult echidna, it develops a distinctive coating that is part fur, part short feather or quill. Since it has no teeth, it relies instead on its mucous-covered tongue to scoop up termites, ants, worms and beetle larvae. The adult spiny anteater may look cute (check out the newborn’s mom, Prickle, below), but you probably don’t want to pet it. Not only is it infested with some of the world’s largest fleas and covered with two-inch long prickly quills, but it also has scary claws that you definitely won’t want to snuggle up with at night.