The Duck Billed Platypus is a Successful Egg Laying Mammal – It is Also Venomous
By Steve Challis 2010
The Platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, has been known by many different names. In an account of an early exploration they were referred to as Water Moles.
The Platypus is one of only two types of mammal that lays eggs. The other type is the Echidna. There are at least two species of Echidna, but only one of Platypus. Both were extremely successful animals before Europeans arrived in Australia. They started systematically hunting Platypuses for their fur.
Habitat and Diet
The Platypus is semiaquatic. It spends much of its life in the water, living in burrows in the riverbank. They live on the small water creatures. Although fish are not a major part of their diet they will certainly eat some small ones. The main food of the Platypus is invertebrates. This includes Yabbies and other fresh water Crayfish. They also eat worms of all types and insects, especially aquatic insect larvae. On average, a Platypus will eat about a fifth of their body weight a day, but there have been reports that they will eat as much as their own body weight if they can catch enough.
As far as is known, they only eat water creatures although I can well imagine that if they found a nice juicy Earthworm in their home borrow they would eat it. Underwater they close their eyes, ears and do not use their sense of smell either. Their bill has both touch sensors and electro sensors that detect tiny electric currents associated with the muscular contractions of their small prey species. They catch their food underwater, but come up to eat.
Before Europeans came to Australia, one of the main predators of the Platypus was the big Australian Water Rat. These are not a particular threat to the adult Platypuses, but could take the babies. In the breeding season, the Male Platypus produced venom. The Platypus can sting with its spurs. A Platypus sting can kill a Water Rat. It would also probably kill a Fox. Although there have been no reported Human deaths from Platypus stings, it is apparently very painful. It has been likened to the bite of a venomous, but non lethal, snake.
Swimming with Platypuses
When I was in Eungella National Park in Queensland, I was able to see a platypus. One of the rangers told me that when his children were younger they would swim with the Platypuses. Apparently the animals accepted the children with no difficulty. There were certainly no stings.
Plural of Platypus
In this article, I have been using the word Platypuses as the plural of Platypus. No doubt some people might object that the correct plural form of Platypus should be Platypode. However, while Platypuses will be understood as the plural of Platypus, only people who already know a lot about this animal will understand Platypode. It is interesting to note that the spell checker of Microsoft Word accepts Platypuses, but not Platypode. Some people use the word Platypi.
The other type of egg laying mammal is the Echidna: [http://stevechallis.net/Echidna.php]. Steve Challis has other wildlife articles at stevechallis.net, some of them illustrated like the Bonobo at [http://stevechallis.net/Bonobos.php].
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