Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium wasn't actively looking for the funny-looking, spiny animal from Australia, but when the St. Louis Zoo asked if Omaha would be interested in having an echidna, zoo officials jumped at the chance.
Casper, a short-beaked echidna, now makes his home in an exhibit with Parma wallabies in the Kingdoms of the Night at the Desert Dome.
The monotreme — a mammal that lays eggs — is believed to be about 42 years old. His first stop straight from the wild was the San Diego Zoo in 1971.
There are only two other species of monotremes, the long-beaked echidna and the duck-billed platypus, said Lindsay North, supervisor of the Desert Dome. And the short-beaked echidna is the only one of the three species in captivity.
Casper is the first echidna to reside at the Omaha zoo. They are rare in North America: Only 19 of them live in 10 zoos.
However, they are not endangered in their home territories of Australia, New Zealand and a small part of New Guinea.
Casper, who weighs 16 pounds, will wedge himself into a crevice in a rock if he gets spooked. It's impossible to move him, North said.
It's an effective defense against predators, because his furry body is covered with tough spines that deter attacks. An echidna also can roll itself into a spiny ball for protection.
After hatching, an infant echidna, called a puggle, gets milk from its mother and lives in her pouch until it is about 6 months old.
The adult echidna has claws on its front and back feet that make it a good climber and digger. It also has an elongated snout that can be up to 18 inches long, no teeth and a specialized tongue for catching insects, which is its diet in the wild. At the zoo, Casper is fed an insect milkshake, North said.