When the platypus started being introduced to the world outside of its natural habitat, many people thought it was a joke. Who could blame them? The platypus truly looks like someone put a bunch of different parts on a beaver or water rat.
The platypus is a duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal that still today baffled many. This odd creature is primarily found on the eastern bits of Australia and Tasmania. It has continued to confuse naturalists from since its discovery of 1798.
The platypus is considered a mammal, but it was heavily debated when it was discovered. While it has many mammalian qualities, it is one of few mammal species that lays eggs when it reproduces. Reproduction via egg laying is usually reserved for bird and reptiles. This makes them part of a very small monotreme group of mammals who lay eggs.
However, like mammals, the females produce milk to feed their young. This is a defining mammalian trait as mammal stems from the word mammary, which is a gland mammals including humans use to feed their young. Unlike mammals' mammaries though the female platypus does not feed via teats. She secrets milk via holes in her abdomen and the pups lick it as it from pools in the abdomen.
Platypuses will only lay around 1 to 3 eggs per year making they inefficient breeders. However, even with their limited reproduction ability, these animals are surprisingly not threatened. They were hunted up until the 1900's for their furs, but Australia made hunting them illegal in 1905.
Today the only real threat that platypus has to its species is ever increasing water pollution, they are surprisingly sensitive to chemical runoff in water. They also have been known to become caught in fishing nets, get tangled and drown.
Like most mammals, the platypus still needs to surface and breath. When they swim, they close their eyes, ears, and nostrils. They propel themselves by dog paddling with their forefeet and use their large tail and back feet for steering and braking. Fun fact about their front feet, while swimming they are webbed, however on land the webbing recedes and reveals large broad claws used for digging burrows and aiding them in walking.
If the platypus are a carnivorous animal, how do they hunt when they shut off their eyesight and sense of smell. Perhaps the most interesting part of about this animal is how they track prey. They use the help of electric signals from their bodies created by muscle contractions and have sensors in their flexible and leathery duck bills. Using these sensors, they hunt shrimp, worms, flies, insects, and small river creatures.
Each day the platypus must consume one quarter of their total weight and will spend up to twelve hours doing so. However, on average they weigh about 3 pounds, but because they eat such small animals that are in high in calories, this is usually not a difficult feat to accomplish. They are also capable of storing up fat in their large beaver-like tails in case food is scarce.
Like beavers, the platypus digs burrows where it sleeps away most of the day and leaves at night to hunt, making them nocturnal. The males and females will mate in the water, but the females will lay their eggs inside of their burrows. The pups are then born blind and hairless.
One strange thing about platypus pups is that they are born with small teeth. This is thought to be trait left behind from their ancestors as fossilized platypus teeth have been found starting as far back as 100,000 years ago. These teeth fall out of the pups within weeks and are no longer present in adults. The adult crew their food by grinding it in their duck bill. They are also capable of storing food within their cheeks.
Other than their appearance, one of the strangest things about the platypus is that it is also venomous. While the females lack the ability to deliver venom, the males have a sharp dew claw like spines on their hind legs that are capable of stinging and delivering venom. To date there has been no deaths in humans from their venom, but those who have experienced it say it is excruciatingly painful. This venom is lethal to smaller animals, but it not powerful enough to kill a human.
This venom is used to deter and fight back against the predators that would like to make the platypus lunch. These include hawks, eagles, snakes, owls, and crocodiles. With all these vicious predators hunting them, the mortality rate of the platypus in the wild is fairly high.
To date the oldest platypus that lived in captivity reached the ripe age of 17 years old. However, you can only find this animal in zoos only in Australia. There have been attempts to transfer this animal to zoos around the world throughout the 1900's, but as it turns out, they do not travel well. Though some would argue that Australia is just keeping them to protect their tourism for those that wish to see this odd creature. However, four platypuses have been shipped the US around the 1940's, but all of them died within a few months. One was sent to the UK during World War 2, but it died shortly before arrival. This suggests that keeping platypuses in Australia is less about protecting their tourism and more about the fact that they have been so utterly unsuccessful in it.
There is also a distinct shortage of platypuses that are bred in captivity. As well as having such a low reproduction rate, they are extremely picky when it comes to reproducing. However, this feat has been accomplished via simulated stream and river environments contained in tanks.
In conclusion, the platypus is truly intriguing and mysterious creature. What with having the bill of a duck, tail and body of a beaver, feet like an otter, lay eggs like a bird or reptile, and produce milk like a mammal. Because they are not present in captivity outside of Australia, they will continue to mystify and intrigue people across the globe as nature's weirdo.