echid·​na i-ˈkid-nə How to pronounce echidna (audio)
: a spiny-coated toothless burrowing nocturnal monotreme mammal (Tachyglossus aculeatus) of Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea that has a long extensible tongue and long heavy claws and that feeds chiefly on ants
also : a related mammal (Zaglossus bruijni) of New Guinea having a longer snout and shorter spines

Illustration of echidna

Illustration of echidna

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There are two species of echidna. Both are egg-laying mammals that are stocky and virtually tailless. They have strong-clawed feet and spines on the upper part of a brownish body. The snout is narrow and the mouth is small, with a tongue that is long and sticky for feeding on termites and ants, their chief food. New Guinea echidnas are 18–31 in (45–78 cm) long and piglike. Valued for their meat, they are declining in numbers. Echidnas of Australia and Tasmania are 14–21 in (35–53 cm) long. Echidnas exude milk from mammary openings on the skin, and the young lap it up.

Examples of echidna in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But the long-beaked echidna Zaglossus attenboroughi—named after British naturalist David Attenborough—had remained hidden until caught on camera for the first time since it was scientifically recorded in 1961. Sabrina Weiss, WIRED, 31 Dec. 2023 In addition to the echidnas, the expedition team made other groundbreaking finds. Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Nov. 2023 But researchers almost did not locate the rare species, Kempton said, noting that the images of the echidna were not found until looking at the last SD card on the final day of the long expedition. Michael Lee, Fox News, 12 Nov. 2023 There are only five existing species of monotremes: the platypus and four species of echidna. Natalie Kainz, NBC News, 10 Nov. 2023 Researchers with Expedition Cyclops were able to capture the first-ever photographic evidence of Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, a critically endangered egg-laying mammal, in Indonesia, according to a report from NBC News. Michael Lee, Fox News, 12 Nov. 2023 Rediscovering Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna was only one of the goals of Expedition Cyclops. Natalie Kainz, NBC News, 10 Nov. 2023 Areas of pale and white fur on the platypus, koala, bilby and Tasmanian devil glowed, as did the white quills and pouch skin of the short-beaked echidna and parts of the southern hairy-nosed wombat’s pale fur. Will Sullivan, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Oct. 2023 This time, the researchers looked at preserved and frozen mammal specimens from the Western Australian Museum collection, frozen platypus and Tasmanian devil specimens from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and koalas and echidnas from the Australian city of Yanchep. Will Sullivan, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'echidna.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from New Latin, genus name, going back to Latin, "snake, viper (as an attribute of the Furies)," borrowed from Greek échidna "viper, creature of myth combining the bodies of a woman and a snake," of uncertain origin

Note: The name Echidna was first used without a formal description by Georges cuvier in Tableau élémentaire de l'histoire naturelle des animaux (Paris: An 6 [1798]), p. 143: "Fourmiliers épineux (echidna) : à corps ouverts de piquans. On n'en connoît q'une espèce, qui est de la Nouvelle-Hollande, et a les pieds et la queue excessivement courts." ("Spiny anteaters (echidna): with a body covered in spines. Only one species is known, which is from New Holland [Australia], the feet and tail of which are extremely short.") As Echidna had been used earlier (1788) for a genus of fish, it was replaced in taxonomy by the genus name Tachyglossus in 1811. — Greek échidna has usually been taken to be a derivative of échis "viper," by derivation with the suffix -ja from a presumed adjective *echidnós "of a viper," from échis "viper," an i-stem. R. Beekes, however, regards -dna as a typical pre-Greek suffix and thus assigns échidna to a pre-Greek non-Indo-European substratum (Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009).

First Known Use

1832, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of echidna was in 1832

Dictionary Entries Near echidna

Cite this Entry

“Echidna.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


echid·​na i-ˈkid-nə How to pronounce echidna (audio)
: a spiny-coated toothless burrowing egg-laying mammal of Australia with a tapering snout and long tongue for eating ants

called also spiny anteater

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