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Platypus

Updated on August 15, 2009

The platypus is a monotreme, which an egg-laying mammal. One of the only two monotremes in the world, the Playtpus is found in freshwater areas of eastern Australia from Cape York Penisula to the south-west of Victoria, and in Tasmania.

It grows to a maximum length of 60 cm with a 15 cm tail. It has a soft, leathery duck-like bill or muzzle which is very sensitive and the equivalent of the nose and lips of other mammals. The body is flattened and except for the paws, feet and snouth, is covered with a think, velvety fur, dark brown on the back and creamy-yellow underneath. A broad tail acts as a rudder in swimming and diving and the hands and feet are webbed.

During the 18th century the platypus was widely hunted for its pelt and was nearly brought to extinction. Since the 1920s, however, it has been protected by law.

Platypus Facts

Ornithorhynchus Anatinus
Family: Ornithorhynchidae
Order: Monotremata
Sub-class: Protothera
Class: Mammalia

Venom: potent neuro-irritant.
The male platypus has a spur on it's hind leg.
They are the only venomous mammal.

River dwellers.
Excellent homing abilities.
Sensors in lower bill.
The platypus is a monotreme. It’s closest relative is the Echidna.

Photography by Stefan Kraft
Photography by Stefan Kraft

Physical Characteristics

The platypus has a plump body, short legs, and a beaver-like tail. The rest of the body is covered with short dense fur which resists water. The eyes lie in a groove on the top of the head and look almost directly upwards, whilst the ear openings, which lack external parts, are at the end of the grooves, behind the eyes.

When fully grown, the male measures about 2 feet (60 cm) in length, including the 6-inch (15-cm) tail. The female is about 17 inches (43 cm) long. Both sexes have velvety fur, which is dark brown on the upper part of the body and creamy or yellowish brown on the underside.

The feet are webbed to aid swimming, and the tail is flattened and resembles that of the beaver.

The most distinctive feature of the platypus is its flat ducklike bill which is covered with thin, extremely sensitive skin. It differs from the duck's bill as it is soft, rubbery, and well supplied with nerves.

Platypuses have keen vision and hearing on land. When they submerge, however, a fold of skin covers their eyes and ears, and they are completely dependent on their sense of touch, which is keenest in the bill.

In 1985 scientists discovered that the platypuses rubbery bills can detect tiny electrical discharges. The bills have thousands of minute pores, many which are electrosenstive. The other pores are packed with nerves, making the bill extremely touch-sensitive.

Animals in water, such as shrimps and insect larvae, produce electrical impulses when they move their muscles and platypuses detect these from up to 10cm away. By moving their bills along the bottom of the stream or lake, platypuses home in on the prey until they touch it. Then they snap the victim up into their cheek pouches

Platypuses have a superior system than other fishes and amphibian which can also detect electrical discharges. The platypus detects the shape of non-living objects. When water flows over a stationary object it creates a very weak electrical signal. Platypuses may be able to sense these signals, giving them an electrical picture of their surroundings.

The submerged platypus sweeps its bill from side to side 2-3 times a second, using it like an electrical scanner in the search for tiny signals that indicate where the prey is lurking.

Habitat

Platypuses live around streams or occasionally near lakes or swamps. It builds a special burrow for nesting purposes, which it fills with leaves, grass, and reeds.

It prefers deep pools in which to live, preferably with steep banks and reeds. Within the banks it constructs tunnels which follow erratic courses and can be between 6 meters and 15 meters long; the entrance to the tunnel is a low archway.

They swim and dive well, using their forelimbs for locomotion. They are active chiefly in early morning and late evening, when they grub at the bottom of streams for worms, shellfish, and other aquatic animals.

The platypus nuzzles food from the mud at the bottom of creeks and stores large quantities in a pair of cheek pouches behind the beak.

Platypus Venom

The platypus has five clawed toes on each webbed foot, and adult males have a short, hollow spur on the ankle of each hind leg connected to a poison gland. The poison is similar to snake venom and a wound from the spur causes severe poisoning. It will kill small animals although no fatalities have been recorded in man. Its function is not known, although it has been suggested that it is used as a weapon during territorial fights.

The platypus featured on the Australian 20 cent coin.
The platypus featured on the Australian 20 cent coin.

Breeding

The nesting burrows of the females have blind cul-de-sacs and a larger nesting chamber lined with grass and leaves.

Breeding occurs in the spring when the female lays one to three leathery eggs which stick together.

After mating, the female goes to a nest dug deep in the bank of a stream and connected with the water by a tunnel, which may be from 10 to 60 feet (3-18 meters) long and which opens above the water level. The female plugs the entrance before laying her eggs.

From one to three, but usually two, eggs are laid 15 days after mating. The rounded eggs have a whitish leathery covering instead of a shell. The female incubates the eggs by curling her body around them, and they hatch in about 10 days.

Newborn platypuses are blind, naked, and helpless. As the female curls around them, they lap up the milk she secretes. At the age of four months their eyes are open and the young platypuses begin to feed themselves. Until the next mating season the platypuses live in another burrow, usually an excavation beneath the roots of a tree. Platypuses live for 10 to 15 years.

References

  • Australian Encyclopedia, Collins Publishers, 1984. Page 428.
  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 15, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 123.
  • The Sunday Telegraph, Kate Parsons, page 42, August 8, 1999 
  • The Angus & Robertson Concise Australian Encyclopaedia, Second Edition, 1986
  • The Young People's Encyclopaedia, Volume 4, 1967, Southern Cross International
  • The Sunday Telegraph, Kate Parsons, page 42, August 8, 1999
  • Lots More, Tell Me Why, Arkady Keokum, Hamlyn. 1974. Page 311

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    • gramarye profile image

      gramarye 

      8 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

      Nice one Darkside!

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