2 Egg-Laying Mammals Living Down Under: Part 2 (Platypus)

I hope you enjoyed exploring the TOP 5 COOL ECHIDNA FACTS last week. This week, we shall take a look at the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), which is also an egg-layer and a native to Australia.  It is also sometimes called a Duck-billed Platypus. Personally, I have never seen a Platypus in flesh before! Not in the wild or in the zoo. But strangely enough, everyone else I know has seen one at some point in their lives.

The closest I came to encountering one was in 2012 when I was on a first field trip for my studies. On the second day, we were brought out to the river to look for Platypus. You can only imagine my excitement. I was over the moon! For three hours, we sat still with not even the slightest peep on the damp grounds as my eyes scanned the water surface like a crazy woman. Three hours later, I found myself with a bladder full of wee and a severely cramped bum, but no sighting of a Platypus 😦 No matter, I am very determined to keep trying. Hopefully one day, this magic moment will happen to me too. And if you have seen one, please share your story in the comments as I would love to hear about it.

Platypus swimming in the water
Platypus swimming with nostrils slightly sticking out of water

 

Now, for the TOP 5 COOL FACTS about the Platypus:

Best of many worlds
The Platypus: Best of many worlds

(1) Platypus pack a venomous punch

The male Platypus has two spurs which secretes venom. Each spur is about 12-18mm long and made of keratin (same substance as our hair and nails) located on its inner hind ankles. They resemble the size and shape of a dog’s canine tooth. Venom is secreted when a Platypus fights with other male rivals to demonstrate dominance or when it feels threatened. The venom is supplied from a venom gland (known as the crural gland) located in the upper leg, and it is produced when the male reaches maturity. The venom is potent enough to kill a small animal and can cause severe swelling and pain to humans lasting for weeks. The Platypus secretes more venom during the breeding season in spring than other times of the year. Females also bear false spurs, but lose them as they grow older.

(2) No need for eyesight when you have electroreceptors

A fold of skin covers a Platypus’s eyes and ears when they submerge underwater to find for prey like yummy shrimps, worms and larvae. Instead, the Platypus relies on its 40,000 electroreceptors located on its soft and leathery bill to detect the living prey underwater. Once the Platypuses scoop up their prey, they store them in their cheek and eat them when they surface.

(3) Best of many worlds

When you look at a Platypus, its odd outer appearance immediately strikes you. Positively of course. When you take a closer look at a picture of a Platypus, it looks like a mishmesh of three different animals: bill and webbed feet like a duck, body and fur like an otter and tail like a beaver. In the water, its front feet has a broad expanse of skin acting as a great pair of paddles while the hind feet acts as a rudder navigating it in the direction of the prey. When on ground, the Platypus folds away the webbing neatly under the feet making it easier to walk and dig burrows.

Paddle like front legs in water
Paddle like front legs in water

(4) Milk from skin patches

A clutch of between 1 to 3 leathery shelled eggs is laid about 2 to 3 weeks following successful mating.  The female incubates the eggs for about 10 days by clasping them between her tail and belly as she lies on the side (or back). The female Platypus does not have any nipples or a pouch. Milk is secreted from two round skin patches onto the female’s tummy fur which is very rich in fats, about six times more than a cow’s milk. The Platypus young are nursed for up to 3 to 4 months until they are ready to swim.

(5) Platypuses have their very own tick species!

Yes that’s right! The tick species is known as Ixodes ornithorhynchi. The ticks are most prolific around the Platypus’s lower hind legs as this area is hard to get to for grooming. There are also found in other areas of its body like the fur and front legs, but are found in much smaller numbers.

Hope you enjoyed the TOP 5 Cool Platypus Facts 🙂 Now, a short visual treat (less than 4 minutes) with more information about the Platypus:

For Further Reading:
(1) Australian Platypus Conservancy
(2) Australian Museum: Platypus

Photo/Video Credits:
(1) Header: Trevira1 / Foter / CC BY-NC
(2) Platypus swimming in water: 0ystercatcher / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
(3) Platypus in water: Stefan Kraft / Foter / CC BY-SA
(4) Paddle feet: niallkennedy / Foter / CC BY-NC
(5) Video: National Geographic YouTube channel
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