Until I started doing research for this article, I had mistakenly thought the platypus was extinct. I didn’t think such an animal existed, and I share my surprise with earlier people who first saw it. It was believed that the animal sent back to Europe was a hoax, someone had sewn together the bill of a duck with the body of a mammal. I don’t blame them for their confusion. The platypus is one strange animal and it’s looks are just the beginning.
The platypus is native to the eastern coast of Australia. It is found in lakes, streams and rivers. It lives alone, only coming together with another platypus to breed. Males have a poisonous claw on it’s back foot that it can use to fight off competition during mating season.
As mentioned, the platypus has a snout that looks somewhat like a beak. It’s nostrils are located on this snout and it’s mouth is beneath it. This snout helps in locating prey as well as digging for it. The platypus is the only known mammal which uses electrolocation. It has receptors in the snout that it uses to sense electrical currents produced by the muscle contractions of it’s prey. The snout is also filled with nerve endings that are very sensitive to touch.
Using a side to side head motion, to detect the direction of an electrical current, the platypus digs at the bottom of streams looking for it’s food. It’s preferred menu includes crayfish, worms shrimp, snails and insect larvae. Once it has caught it’s food, the platypus will store it’s food in mouth pouches until it returns to the surface of the water. Once there, it will grind the food in it’s mouth, using grinding pads.
Another physical characteristic that help the platypus in it’s hunt for food, include it’s dense, water proof fur. Under that first layer of fur, is a second insulating coat more similar to wool then fur. It is this insulation that allows the platypus to continue diving for food in the winter.
One of the strangest facts about the platypus is how it reproduces. The platypus is the only mammal known to lay eggs. Once the mother has laid, it’s eggs (usually two) it then keeps them warm by curling around them in the nest. She nurses her young until they are able to find food on their own. In it’s reproduction, the platypus displays behavior of both reptiles, and mammals.
Australia is know for it’s odd animals, kangaroos, koalas a host of deadly snakes. In terms of odd, I think the platypus wins the first place award. This strange looking, weirdly behaving animal is by far one of life’s greatest treasures.