What animals come to mind when you think unusual and cute? Maybe foxes, tenrecs, or cats, but nothing is compared to the Duck Billed Platypus. It was discovered by 1799 by George Shaw, who initially thought it was a hoax, because of the combination of strange features, like its bill, and a furry mammal body, like an otter’s. But Platypuses lived long before they were discovered. The first occurrence of a Platypus like monotreme lived 110 million years ago, alongside the dinosaurs. Monotremes are the mammals that belong in the order Monotremata. Mammals in this order are the only mammals in the world that lay eggs. Monotremes are also the oldest living mammals in the world. The scientific name of the platypus is Orthuchynius Anatinus and they live in eastern Australia, from the steamy tropics of Queensland to the freezing snows of Tasmania. Scientists have also found that platypuses in Queensland are way smaller than the ones in Tasmania, which make these little creatures weirder than they already are.
The platypus is best described as a collage of more familiar species, as it has the webbed feet and bill of a duck, a beaver tail, and an otter-like body and fur. The fur is dense and is great for insulation, both in and out of water. The fur is waterproof and can stay dry even after hours of foraging. It can keep the platypus warm when the water is 39℉ (4℃), even if it foraged in the same water for hours. And you lose warmth 25 times faster in water than in air. It also has a reptilian gait because its legs are at its sides and has extra bones in its shoulder girdle, which is absent in other mammals.
Warm fur is only one of the platypuses' many specialties. The duck-like bill is a very cool feature of the platypus too. Unlike the duck’s bill being hard, the platypuses’ bill is soft and pliable and is quite handy when the platypus goes out to forage. When the platypus goes to forage, it usually shuts off its sense of sight, hearing, and smell to catch its food. As all of you may know, all mammals have 5 senses, except the platypus, which has six. The sixth sense is called electroreception. Electroreception is the ability to sense the electric charges of all sorts of things like rocks, its food, me, and you, if we were underwater with the platypus. So, how does the platypus sense the electric fields of everything? Well, it uses the receptors on its bill, which are called mechanoreceptors. Mechanoreceptors are like our touch receptors, rather they do not need to be pressed. The platypus usually moves its head back and forth to detect its prey.
The platypus may seem awkward on land, but it is a sleek missile in the water, thanks to its webbed feet. They can stay underwater for 2 minutes; however, they don’t stay that long underwater unless necessary. They usually do short 30 to 60 second dives. The time it dives is usually dependent on the air in its lungs. They dive less than 16 feet, but sometimes they dive deeper, around 26 feet. They might come to the surface to recover for 10 to 20 seconds. The platypus is also a great digger. They usually dig simple burrows. Unless the platypus is a female mom, who digs a deeper, elaborative nesting burrow, with multiple entrances and exits, to leave her puggles in, while she goes out and forages. She will cover the opening, so unwanted visitors cannot steal the puggles while she’s gone. Platypuses are usually found in freshwater areas, but they sometimes go to estuaries.
Platypuses are nearly silent because they’re mostly solitary. They do make a growl when disturbed and a variety
of other noises have been noted. They’re usually silent while diving, but they do make a big splash when drowning. Watch the video below to hear the incredible sound of a platypus.
Platypus commonly eats insect larvae, freshwater shrimp, and freshwater crayfish called yabbies, and worms. The platypus will store its prey in its cheek pouch until it surfaces. The platypus also scoops up a bit of gravel so it can “chew” its food. It spits out the exoskeletons and hard animal parts. It needs to eat 20% of its body weight, meaning it needs to hunt 12 hours a day. Puggles have milk teeth and they shed it around the time they leave the den.
Males and females look alike but males are bigger and
heavier than females. They are approximately 16 percent longer and 40 percent heavier than females. Males have a bigger territory, measuring around 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) and in a single night’s jaunt walks about 6 miles (10 kilometers). Females like to stay closer to home, so their territory is much smaller, less than 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) long. Males also have a venomous spur on their rear ankles, connected to a venom gland located on their thighs. It can release enough venom to kill a medium sized dog. Fortunately, it's not fatal to humans, but it does cause swelling and excruciating pain. This spur can be used towards any foe, which includes you, so always make sure to lift any platypus by its tail, whether it is a male or a female.
Scientists have also found out that platypus’s glow under UV light. They glow bluish green under the light. Many squirrels, fungi and sea turtle shells also do the same. Even after the platypus is dead, it still glows the same hue. Scientists think that animals’ glow feature is for camouflage or communication. But all the platypuses' predators can see UV. Moreover, platypus keeps its eyes closed in the water, where they are mostly found, so they’re likely not used for communication. Maybe it's also likely that this trait has no real function. Whatever may be, it is an interesting fact about the platypus.
The platypus usually leaves its burrow to forage during the late afternoon. By early morning, it goes back into its burrow to sleep. One scientist in Victoria, Australia found that a platypus spends 11-17 hrs. holed up in its burrow. It takes 10 to 12 hrs. hunting. Its high diet of crustaceans helps it sleep soundly for 14 hrs. Platypuses sleep 60% of their sleep in a deep, brain-active REM. Humans spend about 25% in the rich, REM state (if that helps to can relate). The pregnant female is an exception. It spends its time building nests, nurturing puggles, and foraging for food. Although platypuses are not considered hibernators, they’re inactive for long periods of time.
A platypus leaving its burrow is a high-risk factor, even at night. During drought and altering waterways, the platypus is forced to travel on land, and it makes them much more vulnerable. Platypus is a tasty treat for several animals. Aerial predators such as owls, eagles, and hawks feed on them. Native prey includes Dingo, Tasmanian devils, monitor lizards, snakes and water rats are also a threat. Invasive feral and unleashed dogs, cats and foxes will also love to dine on a platypus. In northern Australia, heavy predation is caused by crocodiles.
Even Sydney Opera House traps to catch yabbies and crayfish can become death traps for platypuses, turtles, and water rats, as wildlife cannot escape. These traps are shaped like the Sydney Opera House and are often set during the summer, when it’s platypus breeding season. Platypuses can be caught in discarded litter, fishing lines and mesh nettings. Even common items such as hair ties, plastic rings, and rubber bands are lethal for a duck billed platypus.
Males compete for females, with the venomous spur. Females usually compete for one male. After the male wins the female, aquatic courtship occurs. In courtship, there are dives and swims, and the couple grasp and roll around. The pregnant female seeks shelter in the elaborate netting burrow dug in the riverbank. It’s deeper and is blocked by plugs to protect her puggles from rising waters or predators. She also lines her burrow with leaves, twigs, and vegetation, which she carries into her burrow using her tail and hind feet. They have scent glands at the side of their neck that release a musky scent that can be rubbed on rocks and logs to mark things.
Often the mother doesn’t leave the burrow after laying 1-3 soft, small eggs. They’re 0.7 inches (1.7 centimeters) in diameter. Their shell is soft and pliant. The eggs are spheres unlike most other bird eggs. They hatch after 10 days, and they are the size of a bean. They cannot swim yet; they must be taught. The mother doesn’t have nipples, instead she has special patches that exude milk for her young to slurp up. By the time they’ve weaned, they have fur, have lost their milk teeth, and know how to swim. They usually leave the nest around this time.
There’s even more to learn about the amazing platypus. But habitat loss and other reasons have caused their numbers to go down tremendously. They are marked as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. But it will take our efforts to keep this amazing animal around for many years to come.
Foraging - The act of searching for food.
Gait - a manner of walking
Estuary - branch of a sea that extends inland to meet the mouth of a river.
Pliable - flexible
Hue - a color or shade
REM - Rapid eye movement, a stage of sleep where most dreams happen.
Exude - discharge.
Weaned - a stage where the young mammal learns to eat something other than its mother's milk.
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