Echidnas live in Australia and New Guinea. They help keep the soil healthy.

Echidnas live in Australia and New Guinea. They help keep the soil healthy.

The little animals are big diggers.

The little animals are big diggers.

An echidna will sometimes roll up into a ball for protection—like a hedgehog! (Nachoman-au/GNU FDL/CC BY-SA 3.0)

An echidna will sometimes roll up into a ball for protection—like a hedgehog! (Nachoman-au/GNU FDL/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Echidnas have a mix of hair and spines. (Vmenkov/GNU FDL/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Echidnas have a mix of hair and spines. (Vmenkov/GNU FDL/CC BY-SA 3.0)

A keeper holds Cess the short-beaked echidna at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. Veterinarians took care of Cess after a road accident. (AP/Mark Baker)

A keeper holds Cess the short-beaked echidna at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. Veterinarians took care of Cess after a road accident. (AP/Mark Baker)

God’s Little Earth-Movers

Posted: May 1, 2021

The echidna is small enough to curl up in the scoop of a regular garden shovel. But the little egg-laying mammal can move through dirt as steadily as a backhoe. The native Australian echidna is not fast. But it is a tough little digger with strong claws and short, powerful feet. Scientists in Australia believe these creatures can show us how to keep soil healthy.

When they dig, echidnas trap leaves and seeds in soil. This adds nutrients as those materials decay. That benefits the soil and encourages plant growth. Echidnas aren’t the only animals that God created to improve dirt conditions. Rabbits and moles churn up soil. So do earthworms, beetles, and termites. What makes echidnas unique is the huge amount of earth their little bodies move.

These spiny anteaters have mouths that look like long tubes, called beaks. They have a great sense of smell that helps them sniff out food. Their nostrils are near the tip of the strong beak. A six-inch-long tongue slurps up insects. Echidnas use their mighty claws to tear through dirt. This skill caught the attention of researchers in Australia.

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Scotia Sanctuary says that one echidna moves about eight trailer loads of soil every year. That’s about seven tons! Echidnas poke around, searching for ants and termites. When they excavate, they leave big, deep holes in the ground. Echidna pits collect water. They make a way for seeds in the ground to meet what they need most: water and nutrients. This gives seeds a good chance at surviving in Australia’s poor soil.

The holes dug by echidnas are also hangouts for microbial families. Microbes are tiny live organisms. They thrive in healthy soil, just like bugs and worms do. And they devour decaying matter too—removing bad germs and returning minerals to the substrate.

God is the Master Gardener. He designed the whole process. Colossians 1:17 says, “And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” God gave echidnas a valuable job to do. These slow movers are efficient soil movers!