I consider this Wacky Wednesday “special” to be the original hodgepodge critter of the animal kingdom. It looks as though someone took some furry, fat otter’s body, glued a modified duck’s bill to it, attached a beaver-like tail to the back, and sewed on some black goose feet in the front and mole feet in the back. In fact, when the platypus was brought back from the Australian colonies to England in 1798, it was thought to be a fake that taxidermists messily stitched together. It’s reproductive tract is like that of a bird or reptile (lays eggs), yet it possessed mammary glands. Hence the platypus was placed in the class Mammalia.
The platypus is a monotreme, which is essentially an “egg-laying mammal”. It is a critter that is just under 3.7 lb (1.7 kg). They are adapted for life on land and sea. They are covered with waterproof fur, excluding their feet and bill. Although the platypus does possess nostrils at the top of their bill like a duck, their bills are unlike those web-footed birds in that they are soft and pliable. Furthermore, their bills have various sensory receptors, which have been shown to respond to both electrical and tactile stimuli, and thus they allow for the animal to locate food and navigate through water. When diving underwater, their eyes, ears, and nostrils are actually closed!
Their lims are rather short and stubby, with most of the power coming from their highly webbed front forelimbs rather than their less-webbed hindlimbs. Sharp nails protrude from their feet, which are used to stabilize them when they walk and aid them when they burrow.
While the tail of the platypus serves as as a rudder and propulsive force for the platypus, it mainly is used to store fat used as a source of energy and insulation. This is extremely important, especially during winter when the water is below freezing. To further help regulate their body temperature, they are well-insulated by their fur, they burrow deep to create a micro-climate (done both in the frigid winter and the scorching summer), and they increase their metabolic rate to keep their body temperature at 89.6 F (32 C) during winter.
And did you know that the platypus is venomous? Although it isn’t deadly to humans, platypus venom, produced by males during the mating season, can cause severe pain. The venom is ejected from a hollow, horny spur located at the rear ankles of males. The spur is connected to a venum duct located at the thigh of males.
Mating is quite an event for the platypus. It all takes place in the water with males chasing the female until he grabs her tail. Once he has her, it is thought that males compete with one another and possibly stab each other with the aforementioned venom to protect their female of choice. Quite a risky business- but that seems to be the case across most species.
They are located mainly in Eastern Australia, but due to heavy hunting and European settlement in the 19th century that almost resulted in the extinction of the platypus, their populations remain fragmented. Fortunately, the platypus is no longer endangered! Don’t you love hearing that for once?