Echidnas are monotremes, egg-laying mammals that can be found in Australia and New Guinea. Echidnas don’t see well and have no teeth, so they mash up the mealworms, earthworms, termites, larvae, and other insects they catch with their long tongues. They’re also called spiny anteaters because they eat a lot of ants… except for Matilda, the first-known Echidna found to be allergic to ants.
In this Zoos Victoria video, Healesville Sanctuary Keeper Amie Hindson shares how two-year-old Matilda’s eyes became puffy and red in 2013. In response, veterinary dermatologists at the Melbourne Veterinary Specialist Center tested Matilda for allergic reactions. From Healesville’s site:
When you’ve been diagnosed as allergic to your main food source and one of the most common native plants in Australia, drastic measures are required. First up, specialists needed to determine the cause of Matilda’s allergy. To do this, a range of known antigens were injected under her skin and the site observed for signs of reaction.
Once the allergen, to ants, was identified, specialists set to work to develop an allergen specific vaccine unique to Matilda. She was now in the ‘desensitisation’ part of her journey.
Matilda’s treatment plan required her vaccine to be given in small, regular doses, exposing her to enough of the allergen to cause an immune response but not so much that it would cause an adverse reaction. In short, Matilda’s immune system was being trained to learn how to manage and respond to the identified allergens.
While time-consuming, this process of desensitization has been highly effective and become a lifelong solution for Matilda’s allergies.
Matilda has responded incredibly well to her vaccine treatment, so much so that she has now been vaccine free for six months, with no negative skin reactions.
Watch these videos next: This is how a baby echidna (a puggle) hatches from an egg, a baby echidna at Taronga Wildlife Hospital, and the three different ways mammals give birth.
From 2018, read more about Matilda the short beaked echidna in The Guardian. Plus, read more about allergy skin tests at WebMD.