The Platypus is a Survivor

The platypus is an odd-looking creature; nobody would give it beauty points. It hails from Australia, along with bouncy kangaroos, koala bears smelling like cough drops, and deadly dingo dogs. But the platypus has something going for it that none of the other creatures has – secret weapons of survival.

A platypus looks like a mix of everything. It has webbed feet like a beaver, a rubbery bill like a duck, the tail of an otter, lays eggs like an ostrich, and burrows in the ground like a mole. Somebody said that “a Platypus is a duck designed by a committee”; it’s really a multi-tasking mammal. It can walk across land on its knuckles, without wearing out its webbed feet. Its dark-brown fur is packed on in two levels. The top layer of fur keeps out fresh water when the platypus goes swimming. The second layer keeps it dry and warm.

When swimming, the platypus closes its ears and nose and mouth, but it has the same system for sensing things that eels use: electrolocation. “Electrolocation” is a system that senses movement silently. It’s better than the dolphin’s sonar system, because no one else can hear it. The platypus can sense tiny electrical currents that animals give off as they move, like the security systems turning lights on anything that moves. The platypus uses this to find food and sense predators when they are near, so that it can hide in its burrow and be safe.

There are other reasons for burrowing. There, the female platypus lays eggs and nurses the babies with milk when they hatch. That’s strange enough – only one other Australian animal does that – but the platypus has more tricks than Batman. The platypus doesn’t like to fight, but if it gets cornered, there’s a ‘last resort’ weapon. The male can lash out with sharp spurs on its hind claws that can stun its attacker with poison. (Even Wild West cowboys couldn’t pull that off.)

The real ‘secret weapon’ of the platypus is that it can do so many different things. Even though it doesn’t look like much, the Platypus can live on land and in water, walk on its knuckles, sense electronically, stun enemies and dig burrows for safety. It’s a survivor.