Researchers from Adelaide University are using the public to build a profile of Echidna populations all over Australia.
Locally there has been a spike in sightings of the egg laying mammals around the Tamworth region, and PhD student Tahlia Perry is urging residents to use the free Echidna CSI app to log the sightings.
Since launching in September 2017 the app has been downloaded over 6000 times, and has had 5000 submissions of sightings.
While there has only been ten so far in the Tamworth region, locals are reporting seeing many more all over the region, including in residential areas and even the CBD.
“I would assume that they would be coming closer to town in the search of water,” Ms Perry said.
“Echidna’s don’t handle hot weather very well so will often be seen sitting in bird baths, or even swimming in pools.
“That is what we are trying to do with Echidna CSI – build an ecological model to see if habitats are changing and why.”
Echidna’s are notoriously hard to study in the wild because of their “very cryptic habits and very large home ranges”, which is why using the public to pinpoint locations through the app is proving to be so effective.
The app allows users to take a photo of the unique monotremes, using a GPS location and date and time stamp.
“It has proven to be a really robust method of mapping their locations, and we have had lots of interest in the app and the project which is great,” Ms Perry said.
“Echidna’s are thought of as the only untouchable mammal, but they face the same threats as other mammals such as cats and foxes, but are just very hard to study in the bush.”
The other part of the project also asks people to pick up and send the animal’s scat to the laboratory in Adelaide.
“We want to look at the DNA in the scats, as well as their diets,” Ms Perry said.
“The scats are very distinctive – they are long tubes filled with soil and ant skeletons about the diameter of a five or ten cent coin, and with flat ends.”
The researcher also warned people off physically moving wayward Echidna’s for obvious reasons, as well as some lesser known reasons.
“The best thing to do is usher them off in their own time, and they should figure their own way out,” she said.
“If you do have to move them try not to move them too far as they leave baby Echidnas in nursing burrows and may get disoriented or lost.”
“Unfortunately road kill is also a major threat to them, but we would still like that to be logged with the app so we can look at solutions as well.”