In the life of a Platypus

Statistics

  • Scientific Name: Ornithorhynchus anatinus
  • Life Span: 17 y (In captivity)
  • Mass: 0.7 – 2.4 kg
  • Clutch Size: 1 – 3
  • Length: 50 cm on average (Adult, Male), 43 cm on average (Adult, Female)

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) also known as the duck-billed platypus is a semiaquatic egg-laying mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. It is the sole living representative of its family (Ornithorhynchidae) and genus (Ornithorhynchus), though a number of related species have been found in the fossil record.



The unusual appearance of this egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate hoax. It is one of the few venomous mammals, the male platypus having a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans. The unique features of the platypus make it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology and a recognisable and iconic symbol of Australia; it has appeared as a mascot at national events and is featured on the reverse of its 20-cent coin. The platypus is the animal emblem of the state of New South Wales.

Until the early 20th century, it was hunted for its fur, but it is now protected throughout its range. Although captive breeding programs have had only limited success and the platypus is vulnerable to the effects of pollution, it is not under any immediate threat.

Location & Habitat

The platypus can be found along the eastern coast of Australia, in its rivers, streams and lakes. They can be found as far north as the Annan river in northern Queensland, and as far south as Tasmania. The orange area in the diagram below shows the location of the platypus throughout Australia.

Scientia - Autrialia map where platypus live

The platypus is much more common in the Southern parts of Australia than it is in the Northern parts. This could be due to two factors, these being the presence of crocodiles and a greater threat from flooding. Since the female platypus does not begin to breed until she is two years old and even then she may not breed on an annual basis could mean that the platypus has difficulty in maintaining a population in the presence of crocodile predation and flooding.

In the areas that the platypus has maintained a population, it is clear though that this is a population of individuals rather than of families. The platypus is predominantly a loner, who has its own specific home range, in which it lives and feeds. One platypus’s home range may overlap with that of another (Serena, 1994). But it is unknown as to how territorial the platypus is and whether there are confrontations to see who controls a specific area. But when there is overcrowding area, it is usually the responsibility of the juvenile platypus to leave the area and find a home range of its own.

Diet & Feeding

The platypus eats a variety of food, including invertebrates, small fish, fish eggs, frogs, and tadpoles. The time of year will dictate which food the platypus can eat. The table below gives an outline of the sort of food a platypus may eat at different times of the year.

Scientia - Platypus table

(Table adapted from Grant, 1989)

 Some pictures of the little cuties

Crazy Facts About Platypuses

1. On top of all the other strange things that make up this patchwork creation is a poison spur that the platypus can use for self-defense or aggression. This spur can easily kill small animals, including rival platypuses for mating, but it can also cause incredibly intense pain to fully grown human beings.

Scientific understanding of platypus venom isn’t concrete. We have no evidence that It can kill you, but it can definitely cause intense pain. An Australian man who once found himself on the receiving end of a platypus spur said a bullet would have been more enjoyable. After receiving the sting, he lost all use of his arm.

2. Human beings have been trolling since long before the Internet was a thing and would probably find our pranks lazy at best. You see, back in the day, naturalists liked to play a game where they stitched up different animal parts and tried to see if they could convince people it was a new species.

The duck-billed platypus was discovered at a time when this kind of global trolling was very popular. This caused most people at the time to believe the platypus to be an elaborate hoax. Many people were skeptical even after viewing a live specimen, refusing to believing their eyes.

3. Like many mammals, the platypus hunts for food, but it does things in its own uniquely freaky way. To begin with, these crepuscular little fellas do most of their hunting underwater despite being mammals. However, more strangely, platypus has no use for those common, everyday hunting senses like vision, hearing, and smell.

To seal itself off from water, the platypus shuts off all of those normal senses and finds prey based solely on electrical signals and mechanical waves that it picks up using its bill. This allows the platypus to create a perfect representation of its surroundings to find prey, all from its own watertight cocoon.

4. The experts who first spotted the platypus considered it a mystery. Apart from looking like a Frankenstein’s monster patched together from discarded animal parts, it is also one of the few mammals that lay eggs. Humans, cows, and most other mammals give live birth, but this furry little abomination had to buck the trend and pop out its young in oval shells like some kind of rebel.

Other mammals laid eggs long ago, but the only one now left besides the platypus is the echidna. Scientists assigned them the exclusive “monotreme” category just so they’d have some way to classify the latest nightmare to come out of Australia.

5. You’d think that the platypus, being a mammal with legs, would be meant for land. Actually, the animal’s very awkward outside of the water. The platypus has webbed feet, which are great for swimming and certainly increase its diving abilities. However, unfortunately for the platypus. this makes walking on land about half as energy efficient as swimming. The poor thing has to basically walk on its knuckles.

The platypus does have some nails it can extend, and it uses them to dig for food or shelter. In fact, despite hunting underwater, the platypus usually spends the majority of any day holed up nearby in a dry burrow.

6. The platypus looks a fair bit like a furry beaver with webbed feet, but also has the bill of a duck. It looks like a carnival freak show; it was clearly dealt a difficult hand. But the platypus is always up for improving and making the best of the things. Despite the adults having no teeth whatsoever and often hunting food that requires a fair bit of breaking up, the platypus is doing just fine.

When the platypus stirs up the muck at the bottom of the river to scoop up prey, it will often grab up gravel with it. It then uses this gravel to help break the prey up into smaller chunks. Say what you will about how they look, but the platypus seems to be the first animal to invent dentures.

7. As you know, our favorite little rebel likes to do everything differently from its mammal brethren, and as this extends to feeding its young as well. Like all mammals, the platypus feeds milk to its young. However, the platypus doesn’t actually have teats at all and they aren’t a necessary part of the process for this little freak.

Females produce milk, but their mammary glands don’t protrude as nipples. Instead, the areolae act as “milk patches,” which secrete milk much like skin secretes sweat. The little monsters can then lap up the milk straight from their mother’s skin in some kind of odd, furry ritual offering to their heathen gods.

8. In the early 1900s, when we didn’t even know much about the platypus, people used to hunt them for their fur. The Platypus has a very thick, waterproof coat that proved quite popular in the fur trade. Hunters would stun the poor little beaver-duck hybrids by firing into the water and would then have their dog do the dirty work.

Unfortunately, the poor mutts would sometimes get poisoned by the wily platypuses, but the hunters still found the trade too profitable to abandon. Platypus fur was especially popular in rugs because its thickness actually made it hard to work into clothes.

The Australian government decided to clamp down on the practice, banning platypus hunting to protect it from destruction. As of right now, the species numbers arelooking just fine.

9. The platypus has been dealing with the short end of the stick from evolution for a very long time and has no stomach for any guff from anyone. And we mean that quite literally, as the platypus has actually evolved out of the need for a stomach.

The stomach breaks down certain foods to aid in digestion, but the platypus just sort of has an intestine and esophagus that connect together. As far as scientists can tell, the platypus is definitely descended from species that had stomachs, but it somehow ended up without one. The best theory is that the diet it has become used to over the years didn’t include foods that required the usual complex digestion so the species simply stopped producing stomachs.

10. The biggest debate regarding the platypus has nothing at all to do with the creature and everything to do with its name.

Many people disagree on what the plural of “platypus” should be, and it can be very confusing. Some people insist that it is “platypi,” but this is incorrect. According to some sources the name is actually of Greek origin, which would mean that the correct plural would be “platypodes.” However, platypodes is a plural most people are likely unfamiliar with and would only make things more confusing.

“Platypus” or “platypuses” has become the primary correct way to pluralize this abomination in most dictionaries and is usually the best way to be understood. Just remember, if someone smugly corrects you saying it must be “platypi,” you can just as smugly tell them that they are mistaken.

Classification/taxonomy 

The taxonomy of the platypus, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Monotremata
  • Family: Ornithorhynchidae
  • Genus and speciesOrnithorhynchus anatinus

References:

Information acquired from Wikipedia, LiveScience, ListVerse, Platypus.



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