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Short Flat Plat on a Mudbank
This is indeed a short flat plat on a mudbank, though not the shortest, nor even the flattest plat about. After all, the typical male platypus may grow to only about 20 inches or so in length, and, when stretched out in full underwater stroke, may appear to be no thicker than a half-dozen inches, at best.
This particular mudbank happens to be a Maribyrnong mudbank, just north of Melbourne, and not too much of a walkabout from Mount Macedon (where some of the lush forest scenes of Where The Wild Things Are were filmed).
Wild things rare and strange — such as moorhen, swamp wallaby, echidna, grey-headed flying fox, eastern whipbird, water rat, galah, rainbow lorikeet, short-headed lamprey, southern black bream, and, of course, Ornithorynchus anatinus, or platypus — have been seen in one evolutionary form or another along the twisty, turning banks of the Maribyrnong for pretty much the last 400 centuries or so. All that while (up until about the mid-1800s, anyway), the colorful fauna of the region had been accompanied by the roving campsites of the native Australian Wurundjeri people.
Today much of the river basin is populated instead by the western and northwestern suburbs of the teeming city of Melbourne. The Doutta Stars Aussie football team plays at its Essendon West ‘home ground’ not very far from where our little aquatic friend is basking in the Antipodean sun.
This squat water-shedding creature is certainly one of the animal kingdom’s anomalies. Changed but slightly over the last 100 million years, the plat is a mammal seemingly cobbled together by committee (and a particularly fractious committee at best). It is one of the few venomous mammals — having a poisonous barb on each male’s hind foot — and one of the very few that give birth by laying a clutch of leathery, reptilian eggs (often just two; produced from the female’s only working ovary, the left one!).
Though the plat has powerful webbed front feet that it uses for its swimming ‘crawl’, the hind feet and tail are used solely for balance and direction. The tail is also used to store excess body fat. When locomoting on land, the platypus employs a knuckle-walk, keeping its valuable webbing tucked safely between the front toes and away from damage. As the plat’s legs are attached to the sides of its body, as in an alligator, the creature has a waddlingly sinuous reptilian gait on land.
The critter’s famous duck-bill is in fact not really a bill at all. Whereas a duck’s bill opens to reveal the mouth and throat, a platypus’ bill is nothing more than a glorified sensory snout, with the mouth located on its underside. When foraging, the plat seals its own eyes and ears within creases of its head physiognomy, and thus effectively deaf and blind, waggles its broad billed snout from side to side in river sediment. Prey such as worms, insect larvae, yabbies (freshwater crayfish) and shrimp are discovered by a combination of vibration and electric-field sensing conducted by the varied receptors within the rubbery bill.
As an air-breathing mammal, this plat must return to the mudbank or the water surface every half-minute or so to refill its lungs. Yet this sleek fur-lined and waterproof dude can also maintain his internal body temperature at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, despite diving deep into 40-degree water for hours on end.
Quite the remarkable guy, huh?
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