The Unique Penile Morphology of the Short-Beaked Echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus

Sex Dev. 2021;15(4):262-271. doi: 10.1159/000515145. Epub 2021 Apr 29.


Monotremes diverged from therian mammal ancestors approximately 184 million years ago and have a number of novel reproductive characteristics. One in particular is their penile morphology. There are differences between echidna and platypus phalluses, but both are somewhat similar in structure to the reptilian phallus. The echidna penis consists of 4 rosette glans, each of which contains a termination of the quadrifurcate urethra, but it appears that only 2 of the 4 glans become erect at any one time. Despite this, only a few historical references describe the structure of the echidna penis and none provides an explanation for the mechanisms of unilateral ejaculation. This study confirmed that the echidna penis contains many of the same overall structures and morphology as other mammalian penises and a number of features homologous with reptiles. The corpus cavernosum is well supplied with blood, extends up to the base of the glans penis and is primarily responsible for erection. However, the echidna possesses 2 distinct corpora spongiosa separated by a septum, each of which surround the urethra only distal to the initial urethral bifurcation in the glans penis. Together with the bifurcation of the main penile artery, this provides a mechanism by which blood flow could be directed to only one corpus spongiosum at a time to maintain an open urethra that supplies 2 of the 4 glans to facilitate unilateral ejaculation.

Keywords: Cloaca; Echidna; Evolution; Monotreme; Penile morphology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genitalia, Male
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Penis / anatomy & histology
  • Platypus* / anatomy & histology
  • Platypus* / genetics
  • Tachyglossidae*