Secrets of the Platypus: Australia’s Most Mysterious Mammal

By | June 15, 2022

The platypus, or duck-billed platypus, is one of the most intriguing creatures in the animal kingdom. Native to the waterways and wetlands of eastern Australia, including the Blue Mountains, this aquatic mammal got its name from its strange, duck-like bill and tail and from the Greek word platypous, meaning flat-footed. It was hunted for its fur in the early 20th century but since then it has been protected under law as an endangered species. As it’s also an invasive species not originally native to Australia, there are no natural predators that threaten its survival in the wild.

duck-billed platypus

Facts About Platypus
The platypus is a unique mammal found only in eastern Australia. These aquatic creatures are well adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle, but how much do you know about them? They lay eggs – not live young – like all birds and reptiles, so they’re considered more reptilian than mammalian. It’s estimated that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 individual platypuses in Australia today.

The platypus has webbed feet and uses its tail as a paddle when swimming. Unlike other mammals, it has no teeth; instead it has horny pads in its mouth to help grind up food.

There are three species, and their diets consist primarily of freshwater invertebrates such as crayfish and insect larvae. But how did they end up so far from Asia, where most mammals originate? The common ancestor to platypuses and echidnas evolved during the Jurassic period, indicating that they have remained relatively unchanged since then.

duck-billed platypus

Scientists believe that monotremes first emerged approximately 160 million years ago, but only one other monotreme exists today, echidnas. Monotremes are found in several species in Australia and New Guinea, while monotremes were also native to Argentina until recently when they became extinct there as well.

The platypus has webbed feet and short limbs with powerful claws on its front feet for digging into river beds. They have broad, flat tails used as a rudder when swimming. Their fur is thick and waterproof, making them excellent swimmers; they can dive to depths of up to two meters (six feet) underwater.

The platypus has an acute sense of smell, hearing and sight. They have teeth (no longer in use) that are not visible when their mouth is closed and a toothless, leathery beak used for catching prey. Their eyes are dark brown or black with a cat-like pupil. Platypuses have several adaptations to enable them to hunt prey on land and under water.

The platypus is one of only two venomous mammals native to Australia (the other being an echidna). Males have a spur on each hind foot that delivers venom produced by crural glands when they are threatened. This venom may cause severe pain for up to several days but is not considered dangerous to humans; however, children should still seek medical attention if bitten.

duck-billed platypus

The Platypus is a unique Australian species found in the Blue Mountains. There are many sightings in the Jenolan region. Along with echidnas, Platypuses are grouped in a separate order of mammals known as monotremes, which are distinguished from all other mammals because they lay eggs. There has been much controversy over what to feed them for optimal health and wellbeing.

Specialists are divided on whether they are carnivores, herbivores or omnivores. In terms of average daily food intake per Platypus, it was found that an individual eats 2% animal matter with 98% plant material (vegetation), primarily consisting of water weeds and submerged macrophytes.

Where They Live
Due to their habitat and food preferences, platypuses are usually found in fast-flowing streams, rivers, and lakes. They prefer muddy bottoms to sandy bottoms and deeper lakes to shallow ones. In particular, they like to forage for snails in turbid water. The platypus is found in western Victoria, eastern South Australia and throughout Tasmania as well as some parts of southern New South Wales.

Behavior & Ecology
The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semi-aquatic mammal found in eastern Australia, including Tasmania. It is one of two living species of platypuses and has a highly specialized, streamlined body that can inhabit both fresh and salt water environments. The platypus feeds on aquatic invertebrates—such as yabbies (freshwater crayfish), shrimp, snails, worms, and insect larvae—and small fish.

The platypus is found in freshwater rivers and streams, lakes, farm dams, and billabongs. It prefers water with a temperature of 15 to 28 degrees Celsius (59 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit). The platypus stores fat in its tail when it needs to survive long periods without food. While underwater, it closes its eyes, ears, and nostrils; males have a hairless nose pad that aids their sense of smell underwater.

duck-billed platypus

Current Threats
The Platypus is in decline for a number of reasons, including habitat destruction and run-ins with fishing nets. It is listed as an endangered species. Unfortunately, much is still unknown about the habits and threats facing these unusual mammals, limiting conservation efforts. We could protect Platypuses if we knew more about them!

Conservation Efforts
In 2003, there were estimated to be about 100,000 platypuses in Australia. The platypus is also a protected species under Australian law. In some parts of its range, it can be hunted only by landowners and their immediate family members with special permits from state wildlife departments. International trade is prohibited under CITES regulations and local laws have been put in place to prevent poaching.

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