The lizard-like walk of the long-beaked echidna.

You’ve probably heard the song walk like an Egyptian, but the roly-poly trot of the long-beaked echidna is equally song worthy.

long beaked echidna
It doesn’t get much odder than this. Not only does the long-beaked echidna look strange, they have a weird lizard-like walk too. Photo:Wikimedia Commons/Matteo De Stefano/MUSE

If you picture the walking style of most mammals and even us humans, the limbs work in diagonal pairs. While we move our right hand with our left leg and vice-versa, it seems the long-beaked echidna is doing it differently.

In the same pattern lizards use, this echidna walks with both legs on the same side moving together, rolling from left to right. The synchronisation of the limb pairs however isn’t as exact as in lizards and because of this the whole thing ends up looking like more of a trot. See the video!

1280px-2013-03_Langschnabel-Ameisenigel_Zaglossus
A bit lizard-like, but less synchronised: the weird walk of the long-beaked echidna. Photo: Wikimedia commons/Anagoria

It seems incredibly odd for this animal to walk this way. Its body must tilt from side to side, a strain that animals walking with their limbs in diagonal pairs don’t have to endure. It also can’t run, probably because of the problems balancing.

To achieve this walking pattern without being flat and sprawled like a lizard, the Long-Beaked Echidna must walk with a very narrow stance and their shoulder and hip joints have evolved to be much closer to their spine to accommodate.

This weird way of walking is most easily recognised in the Long-Beaked Echidna but has actually been observed in all three species of monotremes – the most ancient of extant mammals including the Short-Beaked Echidna and the Platypus, both found in Australia. Scientists believe this evidence could suggest the now common mammalian walk, with diagonal limb pairs, was actually derived from this lizard-like way.

So maybe our long lost ancestors walked with their right hand and right leg followed by their left hand and left leg but try it now and you’ll notice how much concentration it takes and how quickly you’ll fall back into your natural right with left limb pattern.

And you’ll also look odd, just like the Long-Beaked Echidna.

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Take a gander at this oddity: the long beaked echidna. They seem to trot in a style that’s a little bit mammalian and a little bit reptilian. Photo: Flickr/Biodiversity Heritage Library

Reference

Gambaryan, P., & Kuznetsov, A. (2013) An evolutionary perspective on the walking gait of the long-beaked echidna.  Journal of Zoology, 290(1), 58-67. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12014

5 comments

  1. Wow! Is there a reason why the Echidna has stood by its weird walk? Or could it be that it’s half-way through evolving from the synchronised way lizards walk towards the diagonal pattern of other mammals?

    Great read, I really enjoyed it 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks a bunch for your comment Matt,

      I know it seems strange that the monotremes have stuck by this walk, but their bodies have adapted so well over time that it just works!

      Plus to my knowledge there aren’t any large predators in Papua New Guinea, where the Long-Beaked Echidna lives, so even though it’s walk means it can’t run it doesn’t really need too – so I don’t think the pressure to evolve a different walk has been there 🙂

      Like

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