Having fur and nursing offspring with milk, the platypus is a mammal. However, it’s one of the most unique and intriguing animals in the world, with a combination of features that seem almost unbelievable. From its duck-like bill to its webbed feet and beaver-like tail, the platypus is a fascinating creature that continues to captivate many people. Here are some weird facts about this species.
1. The Platypus is a combination of different animals
The platypus, or duck-billed platypus, is one of the strangest animals in the world. When it was originally reported in 1799, the author assumed it was a fake animal due to its strange combination of features.
This mammal doesn’t make sense. It appears to be made up of pieces from various animals, including a duck’s bill, a beaver’s flat tail and webbed feet, a bear’s claws, and an otter’s body and fur. Its body is streamlined and covered in thick brown fur (from dark to reddish brown). The color of the underside is lighter (silver or light brown).
The platypus possesses a robust skeleton that bears several resemblances to those of both prehistoric and contemporary reptiles. They include five-bone pectoral girdles, primitive ribs, and widespread legs.
In 2008, a comprehensive genome analysis of the Platypus yielded fascinating results, revealing that the species shares the same DNA with birds, reptiles, and mammals. This can explain why they have a weird look like that.
The creature was named “duck-billed platypus” or Platypus anatinus in Latin which means flatfoot duck. It stands as the sole member of its family and genus.
2. They live a semi-aquatic life
Platypuses have adapted successfully to a semi-aquatic lifestyle with their special features. They own a large flat tail and a sleek body coated with thick waterproof fur. Similar to otters, platypuses groom their fur to create air bubbles that provide insulation in the cold rivers where they search for prey.
To move in the water, these mammals use their short, webbed front feet to paddle and their hind feet to steer. Unlike beavers, platypuses don’t use their tail for slapping the water to warn others or swim. The tail is mostly used to reserve up to almost half of their body fat in case of a food shortage.
The grooves behind their unique bill contain their ear openings and their eyes. When underwater, the animals will close their eyes and their nose, allowing them to stay submerged for up to 2 minutes to look for food.
Platypuses can swim up to 1 meter per second in fast waters, but typically slow down to 0.4 meters per second while foraging.
Being experts in the water, the platypus doesn’t do well on land. Due to their short, heavy limbs that are splayed away from the body, the species expend nearly 30% more energy than a similarly-sized terrestrial mammal when walking on land.
Although the webbing between their front claws is helpful for paddling through streams, it retracts when the animals ascend the riverbank to reveal sharp claws.
3. They come from Australia
The platypus is native to Australia country and can be found in various regions, including Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, and eastern Queensland. While the species once lived in the Adelaide Hills and Mount Lofty Ranges of South Australia, it no longer inhabits these areas.
Platypuses thrive in habitats that feature rivers or streams with earth banks and native vegetation that provides shade and cover near the bank. They are also more common in locations with pool-riffle sequences.
4. They Are Venomous
Platypus animals possess a reptilian characteristic that sets them apart from other mammals – their venom. They are one of the few venomous mammals in the world. However, the venom is only found in males.
The venom is delivered through the male’s ankle spurs attached to a venom gland in the upper leg. This venom gland is activated seasonally and generates toxins only during mating season. According to scientists, the main purpose of the gland is to eliminate male enemies.
The venom contains defensin-like proteins (DLPs) that are lethal to smaller creatures. Fortunately, this toxin can’t kill humans, but the animal is still dangerous to us. If bitten, you may experience excruciating pain. The wound quickly swells and progressively spreads to the affected limb, leading to long-lasting hyperalgesia that can last for days or even months.
Fortunately, platypuses are not known to be aggressive toward humans. As timid creatures, they tend to steer clear of human interaction whenever possible.
Platypuses are most active mainly at dusk and at night, foraging for about 10-12 hours a day. They spend the rest of their time in their burrows located on the banks of rivers, ponds, or creeks. Sometimes, they may use rocky cracks and stream detritus as a refuge, or they will burrow beneath the roots of vegetation near the stream.
These unique creatures belong to the group of only five species of extant monotremes. This means that they have only one hole that functions as an anus as well as a urino-genital entrance.
The platypuses primarily eat at night, with a diet consisting mainly of benthic invertebrates such as insect larvae. They also consume organisms, including water bugs, shrimps, tadpoles, swimming beetles, and sometimes even snails, freshwater pea mussels, and worms. Additionally, they may feed on moths and cicadas from the water surface.
In captivity, freshwater crayfish (Yabbies) are a common food source for these mammals.
When underwater, platypuses are essentially blind and cannot sense anything. They cover their eyes with skin folds and seal their nostrils to prevent water from entering. To trace the food, they use their bill which has thousands of cells, enabling them to detect the electric fields created by all living creatures.
You can see how a hunting platypus moves its bill from side to side, using electroreception to locate the source. on the video below:
During a dive that can last between 30 and 140 seconds, the creatures gather invertebrates from the riverbed, storing them in cheek pouches. The mammals then eat food while floating and resting on the water surface.
Predators of the platypus are unidentified because they usually stay in water or burrows. Reports suggest that they may be preyed on by carpet pythons, large native fish, goannas, crocodiles, and eagles. When on land or in shallow waters, they could be eaten by dingoes, foxes, or dogs.
7. They Don’t Have Stomachs or teeth
Unlike other mammals, the platypus doesn’t have teeth. To chew food, the species uses its keratin-made grinding plates. With tougher food, the animal has a clever way. They use gravel as teeth to break down the food.
Platypuses scrape grit and gravel from the seafloor during their diving forays. They stuff them all into pouches in their cheek and bring them to the surface. Here, they use their specialized 18-centimeter tongue coated with spikes to move food to and from their cheek pouches. The food is continuously crushed by stones until it is ready to be swallowed.
Not only do these animals lack teeth, but their digestive system also doesn’t have a stomach. Their food passes directly from their gullets to their intestines. This may be because the food they eat has a high concentration of calcium carbonate that can neutralize stomach acid. You don’t need acid if you’re always balancing it out.
The platypus is not the only creature that lacks this part. Other animals, such as spiny echidnas and many fishes, also have a direct connection between their gullet and intestines, bypassing the need for acid-producing parts of the gut.
8. These mammals lay eggs
The mating season of the platypus differs depending on their distribution and within populations. In Victoria and New South Wales, it occurs from August to October. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 years old. However, it’s not uncommon for females to wait another 2 years before breeding.
The male begins mating contacts with different courtship actions, including touching, rolling sideways together, diving, and sometimes grabbing a female’s tail. This behavior can last from 1 to 30 minutes and is repeated for a few days.
One of the weirdest features of this mammal is that they don’t give birth, but lay eggs. After mating, the female makes a nest in a lengthy complicated burrow. To safeguard her eggs and hatchlings from dehydration, she gathers moist nesting material in the next 4 – 5 days.
After experiencing a gestation period of 21 days, the female lays 1-3 eggs, with 2 being the most common number. Those eggs will be incubated for 10 days, during which they’ll be pressed to the mother’s belly by her tail.
The young platypus hatched from the eggs, but they feed on their mother’s milk. This is the real milk, not the crop milk in pigeons or flamingoes. Interestingly, platypus milk has been found to contain antibacterial properties that may aid in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
The mothers don’t feed their young from nipples because they don’t have these. The milk is produced from mammary gland ducts located on their abdomen, which the young suck from the folds of their mother’s skin or fur.
The mother stays in the burrow with her young for most of the time, gradually leaving them to forage as they grow.
The lifespan of the platypus is quite long. In the wild and captivity, they can live up to around 20 years.
9. They’re at Risk
The IUCN has listed the platypus as Near Threatened. This is largely due to their habitat loss. Severe and extended drought causes waterways to dry up in Australia. These species are also affected by climate change, bushfires, and land clearing.
Another threat to the platypus in the wild comes from ectoparasites, including their own tick species, Ixodes ornithothynchi. Additionally, the amphibian fungal infection poses a serious risk to the species, as it can be deadly.
The platypus is legally protected in all of the states where it is found. You are not allowed to catch them, own them, or kill them.
- Menkhorst, A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
- Noel Kirkpatrick, 9 Quirky Facts About the Platypus. Treehugger https://www.treehugger.com/quirky-facts-about-platypus-4864070