Parental care is central to the differences in reproductive behaviour and energy expenditure between males and females, and it is therefore crucial for understanding animal mating systems. We investigated post-gestation maternal care in a wild population of short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) in the Tasmanian midlands using a combination of external temperature loggers and motion-triggered infrared cameras. For the first few weeks of early lactation mothers do not leave their nursery burrow, which they keep at a stable and warm temperature, resulting in a greater rate of maternal mass loss during the period of maternal burrow confinement than during hibernation. However, after lactating mothers recommence feeding, they raise a young to ~1.5kg on a diet of their milk while increasing their own body mass by a similar amount. Weaning in our population appears not to be abrupt as there is a period where young echidnas begin exploratory foraging while their mother is still lactating. After young are weaned and abandon the nursery burrow, there appear to be no further associations between mothers and young despite young echidnas remaining within their mother's home range for the first 12 months of their life. Female echidnas time reproductive events with increases in ecosystem productivity, so that young are weaned at a time of maximum food abundance.
body mass, energy use, hibernation, mammal, maternal care, pregnancy, reproductive behavior, reproductive strategy, weaning