What is a Puggle?
What annoys me a lot is that people here in Aus insist on calling echidnas 'porcupines.' It really bugs me. baby echidnas are called 'puggles.' Not many people know this. I just discovered that platypus young are called puggles too, just like echidna young.
It must be a monotreme thing.
I must be mad.
Tonight I volunteered to raise an echidna.
This is a young one just getting it's spines, but it still drinks milk so it's a puggle.
Actually, they're quite easy to care for. They only need feeding once every 48 hours, they don't need keeping warm and they'll happily live in a cat cage full of shredded newspaper. When it gets to 600 grams I'll add powdered termite mound to the milk. There's no worry about clogging the teats: the mum just oozes milk from patches on her belly and the puggle slurps it up, so feeding in captivity is as easy as drippling the milk onto your hand and letting the puggle slurp away.
When the puggle reaches 800grams it'll be a juvenile. I'll be taking it out to the bush for Termite Training. Apparently you just stick a termity bit of wood near the little echidna and they go birko on it, tearing it apart and licking up the termites.
The next few months will be interesting.
I have a puggle. It's fully spined but she weighs 300g and fits into one hand.
Margeurite told me it's a girl, and I was given The Look when I questioned her. So it's a girl. Her name is Rexie.
We fed her 50ml of milk. I held Rexie in my right and pushed the palm of my left hand under her nose, and Helen dribbled echidna milk onto it. Rexie shoved her long nose in and started licking. Her nose is 2&
quot; long, but her tongue is about 4&
quot; long, a long, pink thing like a flat worm. After a few minutes of licking, she began slurping. 50ml vanished in 10 minutes.
That's about half of what she needs, but echidna metabolisms are so slow 50ml will do her for 2 days.
I showed the dogs. Scruffy was interested and excited but wary of the spines. Polly hid in her kennel.
Male echidnas have 2 penises. I didn't know that.
Polly & Puggle
Polly is fascinated and terrified by little Rexie. This morning I found Polly sniffing at the cage; every aspect of her body language showed she was frightened. Her tail was down, her ears were back and she was creeping on her belly. Just as she got up enough courage to actually touch the cage to sniff, Rexie moved and made the shredded paper go
Polly went to pieces. She tripped over her feet, fell on her back, and bashed into the door on her way out of the room. It took me ten minutes to find her. She was a quivering mess under the computer. She is in a bad way to forget the OUTSIDE rule. poor pup.
I laughed, of course.
Rexie drank 50ml of milk tonight. She weighs 510grams now. woo.
Duncan The Vet rang me this morning and asked about Rexie. He was the one who x-rayed her and gave her the check-up when she came into care.
"I thought, since you have a baby echidna, we could take it up to my kid's school and show the classes there."
"Yeah, sure!" I said. "I have a bat, too. You want to take that as well?"
So at 9am Duncan arrived to pick up me, Rexie and Jack. We arrived at St Mary's, "Good Mooorniiing Miiiister MacGuiiiiineeees! Gooood Mooooooorniiiiiiiing Miiiiiiiiiister Whiiiiiiiiiiiittoooon!" and proceeded to demonstrate the animals. I held Rex and the kids patted her, while Duncan held the bat tent and the kids peered through the mesh window at Jack.
It took us an hour to work from 5th grade down to Kindergarten. By the end of that time Rexie had had enough. She dug down into my glove and tucked her nose and feet under, presenting the kids with just a spiney back to look at and pat. I told Duncan she was getting stressed and he wound up the visit.
Jack, of course, didn't give a shit. He slept through it all and didn't even growl once.
We met Mr Nolan, one of the local Talbragah Wiradjuri who teaches Aboriginal Studies at the school. He told the kids (and us!) about how they used to track them. Echidnas are called "diggbilla" here, and apparently taste like a salty pork.
My mate Terry is a Gamillaroi Wiradjuri from the Narrabri area. He calls them "durrinja" and agrees on the taste, adding that they're an importand source of fat in the Aborigine diet. Kangaroo is very lean meat. Some time ago I asked how he cooked them. "Oh, an hour in the Microwave is good enough." I was sort of expeting something a little more traditional.
Anyway. Rexie is not an any menus. She will be going back to Gilgandra when she's ready.
A visit like this is really important. Dubbo is technically In The Bush, and yet people here know bugger all about the animals. If I can get kids thinking about animals early they'll be more inclined to think about them later, and maybe pass the enthusiasm on to their parents. I hope.
Yesterday I ordered Rexie's milk supply. $20 for 1kg "biolact 150," a special formula for very young echidnas. In a few weeks she'll move on to "biolact 250" with some solid bits thrown in. I have a couple of frozen cakes of stuff that is effectively artificial termites for her when she moves onto solids.
Den's IRC hints
Never IRC with one hand while the other is holding a puggle.
When a puggle grows sick of being somewhere it will just go. If that means running off a hand and falling into a lap, they will do so.
So Rexie only fell a few inches and handed on her back, but her spines penetrated my jeans around the top of my legs and groin. One of the spines pierced the fly and went a little way into the skin of my dick.
It hurts and itches a lot.
So let that be a lesson to you.
Tonight Rexie drank 54grams of milk, more than twice the amount she has previously drunk in a feed. I found that if I let her push her nose between the fingers of my ungloved hand, I can push her nose into a dish of milk instead of dribbling the stuff onto my palm. It still takes 3 hands to feed her (it's a 2 person job since I seem to be lacking a third hand) but a lot less milk is wasted.
The disadvantage is the ungloved hand bit: I end up with a handful of tiny punctures. Fortunately, Echidna bellies, heads and faces are covered in soft fur. I get spiked by her neck spines when she moves, and scratched by her claws as she tries to dig through my hand. She's very strong.
She weighs 550 grams now.
Last night Rexie drank 55 grams of milk, more than any session previously.
I've started to chart her wieght, using before and after drinks to get an idea of her progress.
I'm a bit concerned about Rexie. She drank a lot of milk late last week, but since then she's been very fussy. I've tried feeding her every second night, as recommended for echidnas, but she drinks very little. About every third night she'll have more but it's not enough. Tonight she drank 37 grams but her weight's dropped back. (see the graph in my profile.)
I'll have to chat to H. tomorrow.
I spoke to H. abour echidna care and maintenance. I shouldn't be worried about Rexie yet. H suggested I should try adding some solids to Rexie's milk. I'll thaw out a little bit of gruel and add it into tomorrow's feed. She also suggested letting Rexie warm up before I try to feed her. Apparently they're like bats that way.
What a strange animal.
Mmm. We love our termite gruel! Yummy!
Rexie sucked down nearly 50g of milk mixed with half a teaspoon of solid mix.
Last night as I prepared Rexie's Milk And Termite Mush, the echidna dived straight into the dish and schlurped down half a teaspoon of the gruel before I could mix in the milk. So I added another half-teaspoon and the milk, and let her go for it. Before the feed she weighed 504 grams.Afterward, 554 grams. That's 50 grams, or 10% of her body weight in one sitting.
I'd have to eat 8.5kg to eat 10% of my bodyweight, and would explode at some point before I finished.
Apparently I'm the echidna expert. I was sent out to pick up another.
It was a fully-grown male, 2kg in weight and had buried itself in the families garden. The Dad helped dig it out while the Mum and 3 kids watched on. The echidna became agitated and began to whistle. "WhoooEEEEooooo!"
"Don't hurt it!" said the mum.
"I'll try not to," I said.
"You have to be careful!" she said. "That's my family totem."
We were careful. Eventually I got a gloved hand under the animal and lifted it. He curled into a big ball as I rolled him on his back, and he sqirted me with a big stream of piss.
I took him to the edge of town and was about to let him go, but something about his jaw looked wrong. I called the zoovets and took him out there.
His jaw was broken. We guessed by the line of broken spines and the face injury that he'd been run over. I left the echidna at the zoo, but I think they'll euthanase him.
Only drank 40 grams tonight, but it was mostly solids. Which is good.Rexie Rexie slurped her way through 50 grams of 250 echidna mix today. That's solid food! Or as solid as her food gets. The only milk she drank was what I added to the mix to keep it wet.
Hopefully she'll start to put on weight now.
Rexie ate 60 grams of solids tonight.
Here's a statement you probably won't hear every day: Echidna spit is really, really slimy.
Rexie ate 86 grams of solid food today. There would have been more but Rexie stuck both front feet into the mush and went "Feet in something! Must dig!" and half her food ended up on the mat. I scooped it up and thought I'd put a blockage across the opening of the dish, so I grabbed the top and let Rexie stick her nose through the gap to lick up the food.
After 10 minutes of this she put both her front feet on my hand and pushed in. Isn't that cute, I thought.
Rexie thought: "Something in the way! Must dig!" and bloody near dislocated my little finger.
It took an hour but she slurped down 86 grams. She was still licking the dish clean when I put her away, but puggles will eat them selves to death, literally. We'll have a go at 100 grams in 2 days, and maybe she'll start to put on weight.
Must rush. A lady called about an echidna in her garden.
Later: he has a bad tick infestation. I've just applied a solution of pyrhethrum-based tick&flea shampoo, and will let him go tomorrow.
Email to Rexie
Rexie got an email!
To: "Den Whitton"
Subject: Echidna Food
Date: Fri, 16 May 2003 09:44:03 +1000
Please ask your carer (very nicely) if he would make up this mix for you:
420 grams finely minced meat
70 grams bran
65 grams Glucodin powder
2 raw eggs
70 ml olive oil
600 ml water
5 grams calcium carbonate
5 ml Equine (this is vitamin E)
1.5 ml Avidrops (vitamin supplement for birds)
These last three ingredients can be replaced with 1 tablespoon of Wombaroo Insectivore Mix.
Tell him it's easier to make up half the mix at a time because that's all he'll get into the blender. Also if the wet ingredients go in first, then gradually add the meat and bran, he should get it blended up OK. Extra water might need to be added depending on how the blender behaves.
Hope you like it!
So that's what makes up termite gruel. Now I know.
Feeding time last night was so much easier. I put Rexie into the plastic box that stops her from running off while I weigh her, and I noticed her tongue flicking. "Hullo," I thought. "She knows food is coming."
So instead of holding her at the dish I put the dish in the box. Rexie snuffled and licked around the base of the dish, worked her way up to the top, then down the inside until her nose hit the food. A few seconds later she was ankle deep in the food and slurping away. I covered the box with a towel and left her to it.
Feeding times are going to be so much less prickley now.
The Zoovet's nurse rang me today about the echidna I rescued last week.. She said they'd x-rayed him and found he did have a broken jaw, as I suspected, but after a little cleaning he seemed to have no problem eating. They kept him in care to see how he went and decided to let him go. This surprised me a lot since I thought they'd put him down. Anyway, she wanted to know what I wanted to do with him.
After a little discussion we decided the Zoo grounds would be the best place. So now they have a wild echidna wandering the grounds. Which is nice.
Last night I mixed up some artificial termites. Rexie was impressed, but Mum wasn't even though I cleaned up her food processor.
Feeding time here is amazingly simple now. I weigh Rexie, put her in the plasting rescue box which can be hosed clean later, and put the dish of food in. Rexie's tongue starts: outinoutinoutinoutinoutinoutin. She licks the floor, works her way up the side of the dish, over the lip, and then woo-hoo! Front feet in and slurps away. I put a towel over the top and leave her to it.
Today Scruffy's curiosity disturbed her and she hunkered down into the food and got in a mess. I held her under the laundy tap for a few minutes to rinse the food from her spines. Echidnas are amazingly waterproof. When she'd finished the food she escaped from the box while I wasn't watching and wandered around the house. Scruffy followed to make sure she didn't go near his bowl of doggy bickies. She did, and his growl is what alerted me to the rampaging puggle.
She has put on, and kept on, 150 grams of weight in the last 4 days, and has reached a grand total of 650g. Yay!
30g slurped down last night, and a weigh gain to 652g.
(130/652)*100 = 19.9
that's 20% of her body weight.
Hands up if you can eat that much. (Not you, Athe.)
We had the Rampaging Puggles playing here last night, with accompanying growls from Scruffy. Rexie dug in behind his bag of Doggy Bickies and tore the plastic with her spines. For a while we had free-flowing Good-Os, which meant Scruffy had to eat as many as he could before that spiney dog could eat any. Then Polly BADDOGged and Came Inside ("BADDOG! Why are you Inside?" "But there's food!*whine*") to help Scruffy contain the Good-Os, which peeved him and lead to the growling and the whining and the biting sort of thing.
Eventually Polly was outside, Rexie was retrieved from the Good-Os and caged, and Scruffy was sick on the bathroom tiles. He obviously can't eat 20% of his own body weight, but that doesn't mean he can't try if it means that spiney dog won't get any.
Then we watched The Great Escape, again. Another boring night here. I wish I lived somewhere interesting.
Rexie exceeded 700g in weight after her feed tonight. I'll be looking for release sites once her pre-feed weight exceeds 700g. I think I'll let her go in the Goonoo Goonoo forest. Next Week we go out to Beni Forest for some termite practice.
I ran out of Puggle food tonight. I'll have to mix some up and freeze some meatcicles.
Tonight Rexie exceeded the magic 700g mark, so she's at release weight. Tomorrow I'll grab a bucket with a lid and dig up a termite nest, and put it and Rexie in the plastic sandpit tray we use to wash Polly.
A couple of weeks of termite training, and I think she'll be ready for the bush.
I took the dogs, a crowbar and a bucket with a lid out to Beni Forest to dig up a termite nest. Polly loved it, racing around like a maniac and sniffing everything. Scruffy sniffed everything, too but after half an hour finally admitted he couldn't wizz on every tree, so he followed me around instead. I found a termite mound, cracked it open with the crowbar and put some big lumps of galleries into the pucket. Termites came spilling out all over the place and crawling around the bucket. I rubbed a layer of vaseline around the top and sealed the lid.
Back home, I dumped the termites into the $10 kid's sandpit we bought as a Polly Pool when it's hot, and placed Rexie on top of the lumps. At first she was nervous and tried to dig through the bottom, but after 15 minutes I could hear her snuffling. She was sticking her nose into the gallery holes and sniffling like mad. I wondered if she was actually eating or only smelling the termites. Occasionally she'd reach up an tear a lump apart with her claws. She pushed her nose into a hole near the top, and I could see through the few layers of holes a long, pink tongue flicking around inside. She was eating! After half an hour she'd finished and curled up. I put her back in the cage.
So I suppose we can call that a success. I'll get more termites tomorrow, and some time in the near future I'll actually drop her on a nest in the bush to see if the dig instinct kicks in.
Rexie is doing well. She's 900g now, and I'll release her within two weeks.
M. tells me that we can't release Rexie in the middle of winter, but she has almost out-grown the cage I have her in. Sometime real soon I'll have to hand Rexie over to H. who has a larger echidna cage. I can hear Rexie now rattling the bars of her cage. She must be hungry.
Just a note of clarification
I still have Rexie and will keep the rampaging puggle for a few more weeks. She hasn't gone yet.
Tongight Rexie climbed out of the feeding box without me noticing and went rampaging through the house. The first I knew of this was when she wandered into the office and pushed against my right leg, forcing her spines through my sock and drawing blood from a dozen tiny pin-holes. Needless to say it was brown-trousers time for me. I said something like "WHOAAARGHWHATTHE FUUUUUOUUUCH!" and a few other noises indicating fear and alarm before discovering the source of the fear. And alarm.
Anyway. Rexie now weighs 1.02kg after her feed.
It's funny the way things I consider normal make others shake their heads.
"Oh, that's where the owl scratched me..."
"Yeah, the joey pooped on that seat..."
"Last week I was bitten by a bat..."
"That stain is echidna piss, and *that's* a curry stain..."
"When I had my rabies shots..."
"So we steam-ironed the eagle's tail feathers..."
I can't think why.
Rexie wighs 1.1kg after her feed now. She'll have to go to a larger cage RealSoonNow.
Rexie now weighs 1.1kg, and is now too big for her cat-cage. I've arranged to have her transferred to a carer's farm on the edge of town where Rexie will be kept in a cage 2 feet high x 3 feet x 10 feet. She'll stay there until spring and she'll get to know grass, dirt, weather and termites, as all young echidnas must do.
I'll be running her up to the Goonoo Goonoo* for release. This is the Goonoo State Forest
Rexie's first taste of her wild food.
Of course, the dogs had to check out what the spiney dog is up to, and to make sure she wasn't hording some of Scruffy's Good-Os.
At first Rexie just buried her head, but then the smell of the termites overcame her caution.
When you can't find a handy termite nest
The blue plastic container is a kiddie's sand pit we bought for Polly to swim in when she gets hot, but it's also a handy temporary fishpond when we're cleaning out the real fishpond. Of course, Polly has to make sure the fish isn't stealing anything.
Graduation Day: from Puggle School to Big School
Today I handed Rexie over to her new carer. She will be housed in a much larger cage now, one 3feet wide x 3 feet high x 10 feet long. The floor is a mix of sand, potting mix and wood chips about 6" deep. Rexie will spend her days Outside, but for a week she'll spend nights Inside. Soon she'll be outside all the time learning secret Echidna business, such as digging, hiding, and termite foraging. By mid September she will be ready to go bush.
My bathroom feels empty without the cage in the corner and there is a vacant place in the freezer where her food used to be.
The Rampaging Puggle has left the building.
Apparently Rexie likes her new cage. She's walking all over the place, digging as deep as she can, and "is stuffing herself" on the feed mix. H is happy with her progress.
So am I.
I met Rexie again. She's doing well and getting fatter, but she's still small for an echidna. She seems to be enjoying her stay on the farm in the big cage.
The peope wha have been caring for Rexie in the big cage told me they released her into the wild this morning. She is in a small patch of never-been-cleared forest on the edge of town.
Rampaging Puggles have left the building. Go Rexie!
*pronounced "gunny gaNOO"
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