Duck-billed platypus

A duck-billed platypus specimen at the California Academy of Sciences. Part of their extreme life exhibit.

The duck-billed platypus, aside from having a hilarious name, has long been a fascination of scientists.  Upon first examining a platypus specimen, some scientists thought the animal was surely a hoax, specifically that it was several animals sewn together.

The platypus is probably most known as one of the few monotremes, or egg-laying mammals (they are still considered mammals because they produce milk, although platypus have no nipples). But in addition to its relatively weird reproductive strategy, this animal has all kinds of unique characteristics for a mammal. For example, when diving the platypus can close off its nostrils and cover its eyes and ears, but then how is it able to navigate under water with its senses shut down? Well, the answer is in their funny looking bill; they have a sixth sense. This sense is called electroreception, which is also found in cartilaginous fish like sharks and rays. In the platypus bill, there are small electricity-detecting pits, which they use to find small prey buried in the mud by the electrical pulses given off by the prey’s muscles. There is no hiding from a platypus. Further, an adult platypus has no teeth, but uses ridges and sometimes gravel it picks up to chew the food once it catches it.

Male platypus are also one of the few venomous mammals. They have venom glands in their thighs that are attached to venomous spurs on their hind legs. The females have this spur, but lose it in their first year. You can actually tell how old a young platypus is by how long its spur is. The venom is strong enough to kill a dog, and has caused a range of symptoms in humans, up to paralysis of an entire limb.

platypus spur

The venomous spur of an adult male platypus. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

So despite their comical appearance, these animals are nothing to laugh at.

comedy club

A sign for a comedy club in Toronto, featuring one platypus.

Oh. Sorry little guy. I stand corrected.

One last thing. I have noticed that a number of Christian organizations are suggesting that the platypus, which appears to have features from several different animal groups, is evidence that evolution must be incorrect.  Therefore, I’m including this link which discusses the decoding of the platypus genome and how it sheds light on not only platypus evolution, but mammalian evolution, as monotremes share genes with their reptilian ancestors.

And if you like, you can adopt a platypus from the World Wildlife Fund.

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