Thought to be a hoax when first described, the Platypus is one of those animals that you have to see to believe. It’s a monotreme mammal – a member of the most ancient living order of mammals and an egg-layer. Found in the waterways of Eastern Australia, it feeds on invertebrates that live on the bottom, using its unusual flattened beak to dig into the sediment to find food. They do also take the odd frog or fish, aided by being powerful swimmers.
The platypus has a sophisticated electromechanical system that can detect the tiny electrical signals that are generated when a prey animal flexes its muscles. All of this is necessary because the platypus needs to eat around 20% of its body weight in food every day and hunts for around 12 hours to do so. It has been spotted in the sea, but its electromechanical organs only work in freshwater, so feeds there.
Ranging in size from 38-60 cm in length, with males generally larger than females, the platypus has a signature feature quite unlike any other mammal. The bill is a true sensory organ, housing space for the nostrils, ears and eyes – quite unlike birds. They have dense waterproof brown fur which feels like that of a mole (for all those that have stroked a mole…). They tend to weigh between 0.7-2.4 kg.
The platypus also has the distinction of being the only venomous mammal. The male carries ankle spurs that can deliver a potent venom quite able to kill smaller animals, and to cause intense pain in humans. Despite this, they are predated on by some snakes, hawks, goannas, etc. A quite fascinating animal and one inextricably linked with Australia.