The platypus is a unique and fascinating creature native to Australia. With its beaver-like tail, duck-like bill, and webbed feet, it is often called a “living fossil” or a “mammalian chimera.”
At first glance, these animals seem like strange creatures in the animal kingdom. Since their discovery, experts have struggled to determine how these animals work.
However, there is more to them than just these strange physical features. So, in this article, we will now discuss some amazing facts about these “living fossil” platypus.
Interesting Platypus Facts
Platypuses are one of the few mammals that lay eggs
One of the strangest facts about platypi is that despite being mammals, these creatures lay eggs like reptiles and birds.
Until today, only five species of mammals exist that lay eggs. One is a platypus, and the other four are species of echidnas. However, it wasn’t confirmed whether platypi lay eggs until 1884.
These egg-laying mammals are called monotremes. Despite laying eggs, they are generically closest to mammals and have all those significant characteristics defining mammals, like fur, three bones in the middle ear, etc.
They are semi-aquatic animals.
Platypus is mainly semi-aquatic animals, meaning they spend much time in the water. Their flat tail and webbed feet make them excellent swimmers, and they can hold their breath for almost two minutes underwater. Diving, they close their ears, eyes, and nostrils to keep out water.
Also, these mammals use their front paws to dig burrows in the banks of streams and rivers, where they rest and take shelter during the day.
Physical characteristics of the platypus
The platypus is a small mammal, with males weighing about 2 to 3 pounds and females weighing slightly less than that.
These animals have a distinctive appearance: a broad, flat tail covered in fur, a bill resembling a duck, and webbed feet.
The bill of these animals is highly sensitive and contains receptors that enable them to detect electric fields produced in the water by the movement of their prey.
Platypus can locate their prey using electric signals.
As mentioned above, an interesting fact about platypi is that they can detect electrical impulses. Among all mammals, only monotremes or egg-laying mammals and only one dolphin species have this particular sense, known as electroreception.
Through sensing electrical signals generated by muscle contractions, these mammals can determine the location of their prey.
Their bill has touch receptors that can offer platypuses a strong sense of touch. While diving, these animals shake their heads from side to side as they use their bills to locate prey.
Platypuses lack a stomach.
Like the echidnas, platypus doesn’t have stomachs like other monotremes. Though most jawed vertebrates have stomachs, echidnas and platypi, some fish species lost their stomach while undergoing evolution.
According to some experts, these mammals have diets that do not require the help of enzymes to break them down.
However, others say platypuses took many acid-neutralizing compounds like the calcium carbonate in shellfish, which rendered those stomach acids useless.
Hence, they don’t need stomachs anymore. Regardless of the reason, it is true that these mammals can thrive without a stomach.
According to early scientists, platypuses were fake.
The duck-billed platypus is undoubtedly an odd animal, and hence, for many, it was hard to believe that they were real. Even early scientists believed these mammals were a hoax created by putting together different animals.
This started when Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales, sent a sketch and a platypus pelt back to Great Britain.
In 1799, the zoologist George Shaw wrote the first platypus description. He said it was impossible not to believe it was a prank.
A male platypus has venomous spurs.
The strange-looking platypus is one of those few mammals that can produce venom. Though both females and males have spurs on their ankles, still only males can produce venom.
The venom of a platypus is strong enough to kill various types of small mammals and dogs, and though it can’t kill humans, it can be dangerous enough to impair a person.
The pain can last for months and cause symptoms like edema, cold sweats, nausea, and even chronic pain that painkillers can’t cure.
Platypus venom could help in the creation of effective diabetes treatment.
The male platypuses can produce strong venom, especially in the breeding season, to assert their dominance against competitors.
Though this venom can be dangerous, it may still be helpful, as it could help scientists create a specific treatment for type 2 diabetes. This venom contains a lasting form of the compound GLP-1 or glucagon-like peptide-1.
It is a compound that can stimulate the release of insulin and even lower glucose levels. Hence, with enough research, scientists might harness this venom for medical uses.
Platypuses live in a small area in Australia.
Endemic to some places in Australia, these duck-billed platypuses can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.
Generally, platypuses live near freshwater bodies in eastern Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, and Victoria.
These mammals are more prevalent in coastal areas in eastern Australia, though their inland populations are still unknown.
They use their tails for nesting their eggs and carrying objects
Female platypuses are mainly responsible for caring for their young, warming their eggs by placing them between their body and tail.
Also, she uses her tail to build her nest. With their curled-up tails, these females can carry wet reeds and leave them in their burrows.
The female platypuses grow to an average length of about 43 cm or 17 in, whereas males have an average total length of 50 cm or 20 in. Also, these strange mammals weigh almost 0.7 to 2.4 kg.
Platypuses store their food in their cheek pouches
Like chipmunks and squirrels, platypuses have special cheek pouches that can store food for a short while.
These mammals don’t swallow their prey immediately; instead, they store their food in pouches at the back portion of their jaws temporarily.
Once these creatures rose to the water’s surface, they would eat what they collected.
These unique mammals are carnivores.
They may not appear like it, but these unique mammals have a carnivorous diet. To hunt for prey, these creatures dive and forage at the bottom of water forms, where they can eat various animals.
Platypuses’ meals mostly include invertebrates, such as annelid worms, shrimps, insect larvae, and crayfish. Also, if available, these mammals would consume small fish and fish eggs.
Their thick fur helps them to remain warm.
Like otters, these mammals have dense, thick coats of waterproof fur. Their fur can help them by trapping air underneath them, keeping water away from their skin, and even offering insulation to keep them warm.
These platypuses have special undercoats, which comprise almost 900 hairs per square millimeter of their skin. Also, above this fur coat, they have coarser, longer guard hair covering their bodies.
They don’t have teeth.
Although adult platypuses don’t have teeth, they generally hatch with two pairs of molars and one pair of premolar teeth.
However, their baby teeth drop out when they leave the breeding burrows. In their place, those adult platypuses grow keratinized, hard pads that help them to crush their food mechanically.
According to some experts, these unique mammals ingest small rocks to help crush their food, but as per other scientists, this phenomenon is accidental.
Platypuses mainly swim with their front feet and steer with their back feet.
As platypuses are semi-aquatic mammals, they spend much of their time in the water. Hence, it is natural that they are very good swimmers.
These creatures propel themselves with their specially webbed front feet and steer with their tail and back feet.
Also, they use their flat, broad, beaver-like tails to serve several functions. Like Tasmanian devils and beavers, platypuses use their special tails as fat reserves. They store fat in their tails for energy sources in emergencies like starvation.
Female platypuses lack nipples.
Female platypuses don’t have teats from where their offspring can suckle. Instead, these mammals release milk from pores located in their mammary glands, giving the popular belief that platypuses can “sweat” milk.
When these mammals lactate, the milk pools in their bodies’ natural grooves, where the puggles can lap the milk. From there, young puggles could suckle up to four months after hatching.
These creatures only dive for a small amount of time
Though platypuses have several adaptations that help them live in water, they don’t usually spend much time there. They only dive for around 30 seconds and then breathe 10 to 20 seconds before each consecutive dive.
Though platypuses can dive for over 30 seconds, very few can remain underwater for more than 40 seconds.
They sleep for almost 14 hours a day.
These duck-billed platypuses don’t do much work but sleep for a long time. On average, these mammals sleep about 14 hours a day.
Also, they have the longest known REM or rapid-eye movement sleep among all animals, spending almost 5.8 to 8 hours per day in REM sleep.
Although in humans most dreams occur in REM sleep, it is not clear whether or not these mammals dream.
They curl up while sleeping.
Another interesting fact about platypi is that these mammals curl up during sleep. They wrap their furry tails around their bills and heads while sleeping because this position helps them to remain warm throughout the night.
However, they don’t sleep in this way in warmer environments.
Also, these mammals are most active during the night and at twilight. However, they may be active in the daytime if the sky is dark.
Hence, the platypus is a unique animal that continues to capture the imagination of hundreds of people worldwide.
At the end of this article, we learned about 19 really amazing facts about these unique and fascinating mammals called platypi.
These facts offer us a clear picture of this interesting duck-billed animal. If you want to collect some more amazing facts, you may visit our website.
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