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

2 Egg-Laying Mammals Living Down Under: Part 1 (Echidna)

All mammals give birth to live young right? Well, not quite. Mammals are divided into two subclasses based on their reproductive systems: ‘monotremes’ (egg-laying mammals) and ‘therians’ (mammals which give birth to live young). ONLY five egg-laying mammal species currently exist on our planet, one platypus species and four echidna species. In Australia we have two species, the ‘Platypus’ and the ‘Short-beaked Echidna’. The other three are the Long-beaked Echidna species found in New Guinea.

While there are many cool stuff about these weird and wonderful creatures, I have decided to list a Top 5 about our local aussies: the Short-beaked Echidna and the Platypus. This week we shall enjoy reading about the Short-beaked Echidna and  next week, we shall visit the curious looking Platypus 🙂

Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Short-beaked Echidna
Short-beaked Echidna

Echidnas are widely distributed in a variety of landscapes throughout Australia. These light brown spiny animals are quiet, extremely shy and tend to keep to themselves making it hard to spot them in the wild. The echidnas over in Tasmania are much darker, almost black in colour. They weigh between 2 to 7 kg and love feasting on ants and termites. After a successful mating season, a female lays a single soft and leathery egg, and incubates it in her pouch which takes about ten days to hatch.

In the past, the only way I had spotted them was when I heard some scratches coming from the shrubs or behind some rocks, or when a brave one decided to cross a busy country highway for reasons unknown. Sadly, echidnas crossing the highways sometimes end up as roadkill. Seeing any roadkill is hard enough, but seeing an echidna roadkill always evokes strong reactions from me (crying mostly). I simply love them with all my heart. This is why for so many years and for many more to come, whenever I go bushwalking, the first sentence which departs my lips will always be, “Oh my gosh, I hope to see an echidna today!”.

Without further ado, here are the TOP 5 COOL Echidna facts:

(1) Echidnas use electroreceptors to detect living things

In addition to their keen sense of smell, Short-beaked Echidnas have 400 electroreceptors concentrated on the tip of their snout. This helps them to detect the electromagnetic signals emitted by living things (electrolocation) such as ants and termites giving them a good tummy full of feed. The Western Long-beaked Echidna  has about 2000 electroreceptors on its snout. Electroreceptors are quite exclusive to aquatic animals such as sharks as water acts as a great signal conductor, making this land dwelling mammal an exception (other exceptions include bees and cockroaches).

Searching for some feed on a rotting log
Searching for some food on a rotting log

(2) No nipples here!

Yes, echidnas have NO nipples. The female echidna secretes milk from milk patches found within her pouch. The milk is secreted from up to 150 pores onto special hair follicles which is then happily consumed by the puggle (baby echidna).

Echidna puggle
Echidna puggle – Such a precious looking thing.

(3) Hop on the love train

Forget a one male one female courtship rituals! During an echidna’s breeding season, a train of up to 10 males is formed behind a single female. Males line up nose to tail forming the train which can last up to a month or more. During this time, male echidnas can hop off or on in the line anytime they want. Of course, the one who persevere the longest is most likely to stay ahead of the game. When the female becomes receptive, the males dig a trench around her, then begins some jostling action for the ultimate mating right!

(4) One opening does it all

The cloaca is a single opening in an echidna serving multiple purposes. Through this one opening, echidnas urinate, defecate, lay eggs and receive sperm. This anatomical feature is common in reptiles and amphibians.

(5) Echidnas have a four-headed penis

I saved the best for last of course 🙂 Before I started writing this, I had NO idea about this. Male echidnas possess a four-headed penis. Each head extends like a stumpy finger with no nails. I saw some pictures of it and to me it looks like a shiny pink heart valve of sorts. It was strange and fascinating at the same time, if this makes any sense at all! It is believed that this gives them a competitive edge during mating season due to the high competition with so many males lining up for one female. Apparently only two of the penis heads function at any one time, while the other two tuck away waiting for their turn. I also found out that the male’s sperm travels in a bundle (like a pack) making it travel much faster, thus increasing the chances of his offspring making it to the next generation. These facts bring mating competition to a completely different level! Phew!

For further information and pictures about the echidna’s reproductive organ, click here

Did you know?

Unlike the ‘least concern’ conservation status of the Short-beaked Echidna in Australia, all three of the Long-beaked Echidna species found in New Guinea have been listed as ‘critically endangered’ in the IUCN Red list due to severe habitat loss and hunting (for meat).

Western Long-beaked Echidna
Western Long-beaked Echidna

I hope you enjoyed reading this! Till next week for top 5 cool facts on the Platypus. I shall leave you with this really nice short clip about echidnas which I found.

Photo credits:
Short-beaked Echidna: David Cook Wildlife Photography / FoterCC BY-NC
Echidna foraging around log: cskk / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Puggle: ibsut / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Header: Nuytsia@Tas / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Video Credit: NatGeoWild channel on youtube.
In the safe hands of ACRES Singapore

The timely rescue of a young Malayan colugo

Two days ago, I chanced upon a heartwarming story of the timely rescue of a young Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) in Singapore posted on Facebook by a fellow animal lover, Mei. While reading it, I thought to myself…I simply have to share this story with you! So I promptly contacted her with an irresistible invite to be my guest blogger. Lucky for me, she agreed. In her own words, let us share this wonderful story that unfolded right before her eyes. Be prepared to have your own ‘Awwww’ moment too at the end, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Friday, 21 August 2015 MacRitchie Reservoir Park, SINGAPORE
Shared By: Mei Hwang

(Warning: Images may cause distress to some viewers.)

It was a day like any other. I was out for my nature walk with my camera, something I had been doing on a regular basis for almost 2 years. When I arrived at the entrance of MacRitchie Reservoir Park, there was a group of people gathered around a troop of Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis). The macaques were in turn gathered around what I initially thought was a young macaque. When I took a closer look, I realised to my horror that it was a young Malayan colugo. The macaques were making a sport of the poor colugo, taking turns to drag it about. But macaques are naturally very curious animals and were most likely just checking out this strange new species which had found its way on the ground. No matter, my heart sank and I thought there was no way the young colugo would survive being subjected to such trauma. It was heartbreaking to hear the cries of distress from the colugo while it fought tenaciously for its life.

The distressed baby Colugo trying to get away
The distressed young colugo trying to get away
The baby colugo continued it's brave fight to get away
The colugo continued it’s brave fight to get away

After a while, the crowd lost interest and began to disperse. I looked around a little helplessly and worried for the safety of the colugo. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw two people in ACRES* (a local animal rescue group) t-shirts standing some distance away.  Talk about good timing! I ran over to them and quickly alerted them to the situation. I was so glad to have caught them as they were actually there to respond to another request for help.

They contacted another colleague, who arrived at the scene very quickly and sprang into action. We kept a watchful eye on the macaques (especially the alpha male) in case they should turn aggressive. With long sticks in hand, the ACRES crew carefully approached the macaques to disperse them to facilitate the safe rescue of the young colugo. Thankfully, the macaques retreated and we were able to rescue the colugo which by this time had scrambled into the drain for safety.

Waiting to be rescued.
Waiting to be rescued

It was swiftly brought back to ACRES for observation. Even though the macaques were not maliciously trying to hurt the colugo, I am just glad that this incident was intercepted on time. It was a great relief for me to receive a text message later that night that the young Colugo was doing well and had been released back into the wild.

Safe and sound with ACRES
Successfully rescued by ACRES Singapore

Kudos to the good people at ACRES for being at the right place and at the right time. It was an absolute thrill for me to play a small part in this rescue operation. What a day!

Meet Mei Hwang, my guest blogger from Singapore

I live in Singapore and started my journey in nature photography in September 2013 after following a friend on a birding walk. I have not looked back since and do about three walks a week taking pictures of the flora and fauna in the parks and nature reserves of Singapore. I look forward to every single walk and never cease to be amazed at the sheer biodiversity in the small island state of Singapore.”

A BIG thank you to Mei for sharing this story with us! You are awesome!

*Who is ACRES?

ACRES, an acronym for Animal Concerns Research & Education Society is a Singapore-based charity that promotes animal welfare and carries out wildlife rescue work. They run a number of vital campaigns promoting awareness in the local community about illegal wildlife trade and animal cruelty issues. I encourage you to visit their site and learn more about their ongoing contributions to make this world a better place for animals in Singapore. The site is comprehensive and packed with a number of interesting information resources (i.e. Cruelty-free living, Zoo animal welfare). Also, don’t miss the inspirational story about their humble beginning.

Don’t you just love stories with a happy ending and we definitely need more of them 🙂 Hope it brought a smile on your face. Till next time everyone!

Photo Credit: Mei Hwang