Puzzle the Puggle - boy or girl?
Last year, the EchidnaCSI team received an unexpected email - a woman from New South Wales was hand-rearing a puggle! We came to learn that someone had dug up the baby echidna in their compost heap before handing it over to the Native Animal Rescue Group. As time went on, we found out more about the puggle - not only about its development, but also adorable details about its personality (it loves snuggling into warm washing!). Eventually, the puggle was named "Puzzle" - a fitting name for an animal belonging to a species about which very little is understood.
Puzzle’s caretaker was curious about the gender of her spiky tenant. It is very difficult to tell if an echidna is male or female as an adult, and almost impossible as a juvenile. Both males and females share the same physical characteristics like size and hair colour and they have cloacas (like birds and lizards), which means their genitals are stored internally. To solve this, our lab group here at the University of Adelaide have developed a genetic test to determine the sex of echidnas. This requires taking the DNA from the hair of an echidna and targeting a couple of genes on their sex chromosomes to discover their sex.
Puzzle's new mum had always believed the echidna to be male due to its large appetite and "bossy" nature. But after receiving a few of Puzzle’s hairs, we were able to determine that Puzzle is in fact a girl! We have been using this genetic sexing technique routinely for captive echidnas around Australia and it was great to be able to now apply it through the EchidnaCSI project - just another example of how molecular biology can be used to aid wildlife biology.
Puzzle was initially released into the wild on Australia Day, but managed to 'break in' to the house she had been raised in, not seeming to want to be a wild echidna just yet. Now it's been a few months and we wish Puzzle all the luck in the world. See below photos of the adorable Puzzle.