Platypus – One Of The Most Unusual Creatures Down Under

The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) has a furry body, feet that are both webbed and clawed and a toothless muzzle like a duck’s bill. Males can grow to 60cm long, weighing up to 2kg, whilst females can grow to 40cm long. They reach maturity at 2 years, but can live for over 15 years. They are found in streams and freshwater lakes in Australia from Queensland down to Tasmania. They can dive deeply but can only stay underwater for 5 minutes.

After first discovery, the platypus was difficult to categorize as an animal because it didn’t seem to belong to any one family. It was originally thought to be a mammal because the female suckles her young, but she also lays eggs like a reptile, and platypuses are not warm-blooded. This meant that a sub-category of mammals was created for the platypus and echidna. They are now known as the monotremes (mammals that lay eggs).

In terms of feeding, the platypus will eat worms, insect larvae, frogs, shrimps and yabbies. It has an extra sense that increases its hunting ability. The platypus has electricity trackers in its muzzle, which detect tiny electrical discharges which are produced during the muscle movements of prey. The platypus can then easily locate its next meal.

Platypuses have spurs on their hind legs, which are connected to venom ducts, which can deliver painful stings. It is unsure what the purpose of these venomous spurs are, because they are not used when hunting prey. When stinging a human, the platypus clasps the target with its hind legs which drives the spurs in releasing venom. The stings will induce swelling, severe pain and possible infection. Whilst the venom is not lethal, the pain can be so extreme that the victim can be incapacitated. Often this pain and swelling will keep coming back for weeks or even years later. There is no anti-venom yet.

The platypus, is without a doubt, a very unusual creature. It is quite rare to see, and there is still much to learn about its habits.

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