Photo Via Urville Djasim [Flickr]The Platypus Is Not A Fake
Many of you have likely never seen a platypus in your local zoo. In fact, because most zoos only like to take animal species that are 1)native, 2)endangered or 3)can be successfully bred in captivity, few zoos actually have these weird critters. Platypuses are only native to a small area of the world, are completely not endangered and only a few platypus babies have been born under human-induced conditions. Given its sparse appearance in zoos and its truly bizarre appearance and features, it’s not entirely uncommon to hear people jokingly refer to the platypus as an imaginary creature.
Now just imagine you’re living back in 1798, when Europeans first discovered the creature. The first things they sent to the UK to prove its existence were merely a pelt and a sketch of the animal. Is it any surprised that most British scientists believed the creature was fake? Scottish zoologist Robert Knox was so certain that the dead animal was a fake that he actually took scissors to its skin to look for stitches.
It’s Named For Its Flat Feet and Bird Snout
This is one critter that is very adequately named. Most of us know the platypus by its common name, which is Greek for “flat foot.” This title was the original name of the creature, but couldn’t be used for its genus name because it turned out that the ambrosia beetle already had the title in its Latin name.
In 1800, physiologist Johann Blumenbach described the platypus as Ornithorhynchus paradoxus, meaning “paradoxical bird snout.” His name later developed into the official title for the animal, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, or “duck-like.” This is why you so often hear the term “duck-billed platypus,” even though there is only one species of the animal.
You may have noticed this article has so far only mentioned the animal in its singular form. That’s no accident, pluralizing the creature has proven to be quite a problem not for just laymen, but even to scientists. There is still no universally accepted plural to the word. Most people believe the plural form should be “platypi,” but the real Greek plural would be “platypodes.” Scientists stay away from both of those terms and prefer to use “platypuses” or just “platypus” no matter how many in question.
If you ever get in a heated debate with someone about the subject, just remember –you’ll probably be right no matter what you say.
Watch Out, They’re Poisonous
Yes, on top of being one of only five mammals to lay eggs, the platypus also had to distinguish itself by being one of the few mammals to be venomous as well.
While both male and females are born with spurs on their rear ankle, the female's will fall off within her first year. The males will begin to produce a venom mix in a kidney shaped-area behind their spur. This venom contains three proteins that are only found in the platypus and is powerful enough to kill small animals, including dogs. The venom is not lethal to humans, but may cause severe pain that lasts for weeks.
Because the males are the only ones with venom and the poison production rises during breeding season, it is believed that the main function of the venom is to help the animals assert dominance over one another.
Platypus Women Are All Funky
The males have poisonous barbs. That doesn’t make the female any less strange than the males. The platypus females are lacking teats of any kind and though they have two ovaries, only the left one is functional. In order to feed their young without any nipples, the female platypus secretes its milk through pores in its skin that are collected in grooves on her abdomen, where the babies lap it up.
How their chromosomes choose the animals sex in the first place is also strange. Whereas most mammals have only two sex chromosomes, platypuses have ten! While they are mammals in most ways, these chromosomes seem much closer to the sex chromosomes of birds. Scientists still don’t know how their sex determination system works.
Image Via ccdoh1 [Flickr]It’s Electric!
Ok, that’s a little misleading. The platypus isn’t electric, but it does hunt using electric fields generated by the muscular contractions of its prey. These animals and echinadas are known as monotremes and are the only mammals known to hunt by electric current.
The platypus has electroreceptors in the skin of its bill that can be used to help it search for fish while underwater. When they are hunting, they close their eyes, ears and nose completely and dig in the bottom of a stream with their bill. They then load up their cheeks with food until they get back to the surface. Unlike many other semi-aquatic mammals, platypuses cannot hold their breath very long –only about 30 seconds or so.
They’re Quite Popular in the Media
The general public didn’t really know much about platypuses until 1939, when National Geographic published an article about the challenge facing scientists who were trying to raise the animal in captivity.
Since then, many people have fallen in love with the creature and its become a popular mascot for a variety of different things, including Mac OS X, the Brisbane Expo ’88 and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It also is featured on the back side of the Australian twenty cent coin. Green Day and Mr. Bungle have songs about the animal and it is also a popular characters on children’s TV shows including Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Source #1, #2, #3