- The duck-billed platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is one of the most mixed up, interesting animals in the world. It has the head of a duck, the body of an otter, the tail of a beaver, and poisonous spurs to boot! Other than the echidna, it is one of the five living species of Monotremes, which are egg-laying mammals.
- Platypuses are native to Australia and are found on the east coast of Australia in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales. There is also a small population of platypuses on Kangaroo Island, which is just south of Australia. Their range is limited to the north due to predation by crocodiles and severe flooding. They live in freshwater rivers, streams, farm dams, lagoons and lakes. Platypuses prefer bodies of water that have earthen banks with overhanging plants, tree roots, reeds and logs. The females make their dens in the sides of banks high enough so that they will not flood. They make two burrows, one for sharing with a male and one to have offspring in.
- Platypuses look like a strange conglomerate of different animals. They have the tail of a beaver, a duck bill-like mouth, and the fur and body of an otter. Their toes have webbing between them to help aid in swimming. Their tails are used in swimming and are also used for fat storage. They also have poisonous spurs hidden behind their hind legs that the males keep through maturity and can be used to inject a painful poison into potential attackers. Their fur is short, brown, thick and waterproof. Platypuses are any where between a foot and two feet long and weigh between two and four pounds.
- Platypuses fit into a niche similar to that of a muskrat in so much that they are preyed upon by snakes, water rats, monitor lizards, crocodiles, and birds of prey. However platypuses do not eat as much water vegetation like muskrats and instead eat small invertebrates living at the bottom of bodies of water.
- Platypuses represent a key point in the evolution of mammals. According to a genomic analysis, they are the earliest offshoot of the mammalian tree. They split from other mammals about 166 million years ago and their genes represent a key transitional point in the evolution from reptiles to mammals. Platypuses lay eggs like reptiles do, but they also produce milk like mammals.
- One of the platypus’ most distinctive futures is its bill. The platypus bill is actually a highly specialized sensory structure the platypus uses to find benthic prey while swimming around with its eyes closed. It has a large amount of nerve endings in its bill that detect not only physical touch extremely well, but also the small electrical charges produced by muscles of its prey. Platypuses store food they find in cheek pouches and chew it when they surface. The platypus does not have teeth, but rather has grinding pads and uses gravel it picks up from the bottom of streams, ponds, and lakes to grind its food. The nostrils of platypuses are located on the top of the bill so that they can breath while most of their body is submerged. Another interesting part of the platypus anatomy is the poisonous spur. The spurs are located on the ankles of the hind legs. They are hollow and connected to venom glands via a duct. The venom is not lethal to humans, but is extremely painful and has been known to kill dogs. Platypuses lay around 1-4 eggs and they take only 10-14 days to hatch.
- Platypuses are mostly nocturnal or crepuscular creatures. They come out around dawn and then feed through part of the night. They dive to feed for 20-30 second intervals, coming up for breath in between. They tend to live solitary lifestyles when not breeding and males give each other a wide berth because of their poisonous spurs. Platypuses make a few noises, which include a puppy-like growl and a noise that sounds similar to a brooding hen.
- Although rarely seen, platypuses are not considered to be in danger of going extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as “least concern.” However, there is evidence that suggests population sizes have decreased due to lack of suitable surface water for platypuses to live in. Some things that contribute to the decline in platypus populations include channel sedimentation, habitat loss, droughts, fishing nets, and man-made water control.
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