top of page

The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

The platypus is a strange animal that looks like a combination of various other animals. So let's look at the science and see what it can tell us about this Australian egg-laying mammal.

Physical Description and Behavior

The Duck-Billed Platypus is a semiaquatic egg-laying mammal. This in itself makes it a fascination as pretty much no other mammal is known to lay eggs. Its tail is also similar to that of a beaver, and it has webbed feet. The webbing on the front feet is actually folded back when they are walking on land. It is this odd appearance that has confused naturalists in Europe for decades. In fact, when it was first seen, many scientists labeled it a fake, thinking it was several animals sewn together.

Only the male platypus has the ability to produce venom contained within its hind spurs. It is unsure exactly why this venom developed, but since it only appears in males and only during the breeding season, it may be used as a defense mechanism while breeding. Humans have been injured and small dogs and cats have died trying to attack them.

Echidnas are cousins of the platypus and they also possess a spur but scientists now think they lost their ability to produce the poisons. The genes show that they once had this defense as well; however, since the echidna evolved spikes, the spur may have become unselected in nature. Basically, the genes shut off quietly without it affecting the species.

Image Courtesy of: Natural History Museum:

You can almost see the likeness!

One very fascinating thing about the platypus is the fact that it can locate its prey through a process known as electrolocation. This means that it can find prey based on the small electrical fields produced by muscle contractions. They are one of the only mammals that are known to have this ability.

Habitat and Location

The platypus can be found on the shores of East Australia. They are considered to be near threatened, according to the IUCN Red List. Their population of up to about 50,000 seems to be on a decline as well.

The recent bushfires in Australia are probably reducing their numbers even more. It will be important to check on these species as time goes by.

Check out this video for more information on the Platypus

116 views0 comments


bottom of page