platypusScientific Name– Ornithorhynchus anatinus

Conservation Status– Least concern

Appearance

Platypi are also commonly called duck-billed platypuses. This is due to the large rubbery snout which they have which looks like the bill of a duck. The bill measures between 5.2 and 5.8cm (2-2.3 in). They have thick, brown fur covering the rest of the body. This fur insulates them and is waterproof. The tail is large and broad and covered with this fur. It is used as a far storage reserve. On the hind leg of the males is a spur that is used for the envenomation of prey. They have webbed feet with this adaptation being more prominent on the front foot than the back. When walking on land their webbing folds back.

Males platypuses are larger than females averaging 50cm (20in) long. Females measure 43cm (17in) in length. The weight of this species varies from 700 grams (1.54 lb) to 2.4kg (5.3 lb). Across their range the weights vary greatly and scientists are still unaware of why this is.

Lifespan                                                                                  

Platypuses live for between 10 and 17 years.

Diet

The platypus is a carnivore. Their diet consists of annelid worms, insect larvae, freshwater shrimps and yabbies as well as snails. When hunting they will store food in their cheeks until they go to the surface to eat. Each day they consume 20% of their own body weight.

Habitat

Australia is the home of the platypus. Platypuses are commonly found in the Eastern states of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland along with populations in Tasmania. Only 1 colony exists in the state of South Australia.

Most of their life is spent in a freshwater river or stream. They also dig a burrow into the river bank.

platypusReproduction

This species breeds from June to October which is winter in their range. Following this the male will return to his yearlong burrow.

The female on the other hand constructs a burrow which can be up to 20m (66ft) long. At varying intervals this is blocked off. Scientists are still debating the purpose this serves but hypothesise it is to do with either blocking water or predators or regulating the temperature and humidity. Into this burrow the female places dead, folded, wet leaves and adds leaves and reeds at the end to soften for it to make a bed with.

Gestation lasts 2-3 weeks for platypi. It is at this time that she conducts one of the oddest things a mammal can do. She lays one to three eggs which in a week will hatch. Due to them being egg laying mammals they are classed as monotremes (a group with only 3 species). The young which emerge are blind, hairless, vulnerable and known as puggles. They also have teeth though these will fall out as they grow.

For the first three to four months the puggles rely on their mother’s milk. She lacks teats so milk is secreted from pores in her skin. She has grooves in her skin where the milk pools so the young can lap at it. The mother only leaves the burrow for short periods of time. As she leaves she creates thin plugs of dirt to stop predators reaching her babies. When returning these brush water out of her fur.

By the time the puggles are five weeks old she is leaving for longer amounts of time to feed. At 4 months of age the babies will begin to move out of the burrow. The platypus becomes sexually mature at 2 years of age.

Behaviour

Monotremes (egg laying mammals) are the only mammals able to sense electromagnetic fields. They have receptors in their bill which pinpoint the direction of a preys electromagnetic field. This means they can find prey while their eyes are closed underwater.

Male playtpi deliver venom using the spines on their hind feet. The venom which is delivered can kill smaller animals but is non-lethal to humans. It creates intense pain and swelling develops near the wound. In the end this will die down but a high sensitivity to pain will be felt by the victim for months to come. It is believed this venom is not used to injure prey but instead to assert dominance over other males. The female also has a rudimentary spur but this drops off within their first year alive.

Predators of the platypus include water rats, snakes, hawks, eagles, owls and monitor lizards.

The platypus is seen to have a nocturnal or crepuscular activity pattern. On the days the sky is overcast they may also be active.

Platypi are excellent at swimming. Another unique adaptation that platypuses have that other mammals don’t is their swimming motion. They alternate the movement of their front feet to propel them forward. The back feet are only used for steering.

A distinguishing feature of this species is that you cannot see their ears while they swim.

Quick facts

When the platypus was first sent to Europe for study the scientists believed it was a prank.

The Australian 20c coin features a platypus on the tail side.

There is still yet to be a decision on what the plural of platypus is. Many suggestions exist including platypi, platypoda and platypuses and platypus.

Their name platypus is derived from 2 latin words. These are ‘Platys’ and ‘Pous’ which means ‘Flat food.’

One of the mascots for the 2000 Sydney Olympics was a platypus known as ‘Syd.’

Platypi are also commonly referred to as duck billed platypuses.

Photo Credits:

Top        – By Klaus (Flickr: Wild Platypus 4) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom – By Stefan Kraft [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons