Australian egg-laying hedgehog-like mammal, 1810, said to have been named by Cuvier, usually explained as from Greek ekhidna "snake, viper" (also used metaphorically of a treacherous wife or friend), from ekhis "snake," from PIE *angwhi- "snake, eel" (source also of Norwegian igle, Old High German egala, German Egel "leech," Latin anguis "serpent, snake").
But this sense is difficult to reconcile with this animal (unless it is a reference to the ant-eating tongue). The name perhaps belongs to Latin echinus, Greek ekhinos "sea-urchin," originally "hedgehog" (in Greek also "sharp points"), which Watkins explains as "snake-eater," from ekhis "snake." The 1810 Encyclopaedia Britannica gives as the animal's alternative name "porcupine ant-eater." Or, more likely, the name refers to Echidna as the name of a serpent-nymph in Greek mythology, "a beautiful woman in the upper part of her body; but instead of legs and feet, she had from the waist downward, the form of a serpent," in which case the animal was so named for its mixed characteristics (early naturalists doubted whether it was mammal or amphibian).
updated on August 18, 2020