File picture: Pixabay (for illustration purposes only)

Melbourne - With puffy eyes and sore skin, young Matilda was obviously suffering from a prickly problem.

So vets were stunned when they found the source of the anteater’s complaint – an allergy to ants.

The three-year-old now holds the unfortunate title as the world’s only echidna – also known as a spiny anteater – to be allergic to her sole food source. It led to her carers developing a new vaccine to solve the issue.

Matilda first arrived at Melbourne’s Healesville Sanctuary as a baby after her burrow was accidentally dug up.

But when vets noticed eye and skin changes two years later they set about finding out what was wrong. Sanctuary vet Claire Madden said: ‘Ants make up 100 per cent of their diet, with some dirt. So understandably we were in a bit of shock at the finding.’

Without an option of an alternative diet, experts at the Melbourne Veterinary Specialist Centre developed two vaccines to train Matilda’s immune system to tolerate the insects.

Without treatment, Matilda was at risk of getting a deadly infection or losing her sight. She’s now happily munching again on her favourite ants and will be monitored for the rest of her life. The spiny anteater, an egg-laying mammal, has a lifespan of around 16 years.