The platypus is a fascinating animal, with many unique and unusual characteristics. In fact, a group of scientists who examined a platypus specimen actually thought it was a hoax. Platypus’ have a bill and webbed feet, a beaver-like tail, and fur. They are also one of only 5 mammal species, along with four species of echidna, to lay eggs, and they are one of the few mammals who are venomous.
Found in the freshwater rivers, wetlands and occasionally brackish estuaries of Tasmania and Eastern Australia, platypus are built to swim. Platypuses use their front webbed feet to paddle underwater, while their back feet and tail are used for steering. Skin folds are used to protect eyes and ears underwater, while their nostrils can be closed with a watertight seal, allowing them to stay underwater for up to 2 minutes. The platypus’ bill has electroreceptors used to detect electrical currents produced by their prey, including insects, shellfish, and worms. The downside of this amazing bill is that platypus have no teeth, but they solve this by storing prey in cheek pouches and mashing it up with collected gravel at the surface. Platypus also have waterproof fur.
The platypus one of the few still-alive mammals who are venomous, a group that is limited to slow lorises, vampire bats, and shrews. Only male platypus have this ability, and they use their venomous stingers, found on the back of their hind feet, to scare off any predator.
Image courtesy of Susan Flashman
When on land, the webbing on platypus’ feet goes back to expose their nails, allowing them to move well on land. They also use these nails to dig their burrows, found at the edge of the water. Females seal themselves inside the burrow to lay two eggs, keeping them warm between their body and tail. After ten days the eggs will hatch but they will be virtually helpless. It will take 3-4 months before they will be able to live on their own. Mating occurs in the late winter through spring.
Platypus usually forage during the dusk and dawn and shelter in their burrows during the day.
Platypuses are listed as endangered in South Australia and near threatened by the IUCN. Habitat destruction may pose a threat, but it is believed that conservation efforts have so far been successful.
Platypus: National Geographic. Animals. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/platypus.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Platypus. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/animal/platypus.
US Department of Commerce, N. O. and A. A. (2015, January 21). What is a platypus? NOAA's National Ocean Service. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/platypus.html.
Cover Image © Hans and Judy Besage