Info and Facts about Platypus: The most unusual animal on the planet

About Platypus

The platypus is the most unusual animal on the planet, for many reasons. The platypus is an oddity and one of very few mammals to lay eggs.

Strangely, such peculiarities as its rubbery duck bill and webbed feet help to arouse interest and indeed, even fascination.

Two hundred years ago, academics at the British Museum were deeply suspicious of the latest specimen to arrive from the Antipodes. ...


... Those colonial pranksters were obviously trying to pull off a hoax, perhaps even scientific fraud.

Scientists at first believed the specimen was the handiwork of a clever taxidermist, constructed using the body parts of different animals.

The original specimen is housed in the London Museum of Natural History, still bearing the scars of attempts to prove it false.

Although Australia had produced some unique flora and fauna, this creature was just too weird. If it were true, it was a zoological freak, a paradox - an egg laying mammal, without nipples, that breathes air but spends most of its waking hours under water, eyes tightly closed and using it's duck-like bill to "sense" food.

Even naming the creature was difficult. The British scientist Dr George Shaw, in 1799, christened it Platypus anatinus (flat-footed, duck-like animal). In 1800, a German biologist named Blumenbach named it Ornithorhynchus paradoxus (bird's beak animal, a paradox).

Although scientific convention would have Shaw's name stand, it was discovered that the name platypus had earlier been given to a genus of wood-boring beetles, so the strange little beast became Ornithorhynchus anatinus (bird-like snout).

The scientists can call it what they like, to Australians it's a platypus and, two centuries after it was discovered, we are only just beginning to learn about the strange animal that has lived here for millions of years.

Platypuses are particularly difficult creatures to study in the wild because of their aquatic and nocturnal lifestyle.

There are few in captivity. They eat 25 per cent of their body weight each day, so they are very expensive to keep in a laboratory. They haven't been bred in captivity in 50 years.

Platypus are considered a cultural icon.

There is nothing negative about this animal. Cockatoos and emus can be difficult for farmers but platypus are not a problem, they regulate their own population," she says. "People really react positively to them.

Platypuses are important in their own right; they are beautiful and unique creatures and a symbol of Australia.

Not only are they cute and furry, platypus also serve as indicators of the state of the rivers and streams. As a higher-order carnivore, their existence in a particular area relies on the waterway being healthy enough to support the invertebrates - yabbies, shrimps, tadpoles, worms, insects and small frogs - that make up the platypus diet.

They eat about 400 grams of invertebrates each night, or they starve, and they feed continuously for about 12 hours. It is common for them to move five to six kilometers each night.

Aside from their importance to the health of the water ecosystem, the platypus is a scientifically interesting creature. The platypus teeth have been found in sediment associated with dinosaurs, which means they have been around for between 110 and 120 million years.

Researchers were surprised to find them living comfortably in urban areas, often under walkways and bridges with cars, cyclists and pedestrians whoosing past day and night.

The platypus is one of only three egg-laying mammals (monotremes) in the world. The other two are echidnas. The female lays one to three eggs that are about 17 millimeters long and covered with a leathery shell, similar to snake eggs.

The mother lays in an underground burrow and incubates the eggs between her belly and curled-up tail for about 10 days. The young remain in the burrow for about four months.

Radio tracking has allowed researchers to discover previously impossible information about the platypus' habits and habitats. The tiny device stuck on the animal's rump does not cause discomfort.

One platypus named Diamond (he lives in Diamond Creek) has a home-range of 7.3 kilometres, which he can traverse in a night. Each home-range incorporates a number of burrows.

The platypus feeds exclusively in the water and can remain submerged for up to 14 minutes. Their double coats - a woolly undercoat and longer guard fur that is denser than a polar bear's - protect them in near-freezing water for as long as 12 hours.

Underwater, they keep their eyes shut and use the electro-receptor system on their bills to find food, by wagging their heads from side to side. "They can pick up the flick of a shrimp's tail 10 centimeters away.

Litter is one of the most significant problems faced by platypus, particularly fishing line and plastic six-pack holders, which can strangle and drown the animals.

Platypuses have managed to survive in urban areas, so they obviously have good survival practices and can compete with dogs and foxes.