|PLATYPUS (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)
The platypus is an unusual animal for many reasons. It is one of only two living mammals (the other is the echidna) which lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. It also spends most of its life in water – coming out during the day to sleep in burrows near freshwater like lakes and rivers in Australia. Its body is a perfect match to its lifestyle, but looks as though it was put together from other existing animals – a duck’s bill, a beaver’s tail and an otter’s fur and paws – help it to swim and dig in the sand. This exciting animal is from one of the oldest lines of mammals, called Monotremes (about 166 million years old) – and, oh yeah, it’s also toxic. It has a spur (hooked nail) on its hind foot that can inject a venom into prey.
Because it spends the majority of its time underwater, its eyes, ears and nose are of very little importance to catching prey and navigating. Instead, it has evolved excellent electroreceptors on its bill, allowing it to feel electrical forces from other objects and animals. This is also helpful since the platypus is nocturnal, so the electro-sense helps them avoid obstacles and catch prey in the dark.
Extra insulation in the form of three layers of fur helps this warm-blooded animal to maintain its body heat in the cooler water. Even then, it does have one of the lowest of body temperature for a mammal, balancing at about 90 degrees F (32 degrees C)
Life Cycle: Females lay eggs in a burrow near the water. About ten days later, tiny babies emerge – about the size of a lima bean. They nurse from milk patches on the mothers stomach – spots where milk leaks out and they lap it up like kittens.
Predators: Platypi (as more than one platypus are called) are eaten by snakes, water rats, foxes, dingos, crocodiles, eels, and large fish.
Prey: Swimming close to the bottom of freshwater streams and wetlands, platypi scoop up invertebrates like crustaceans and larval insects with their bills, or occasionally grab hold of a frog or fish near the surface.
Although platypi are relatively common in some areas of Australia, their numbers are limited by habitat necessities. They are listed as vulnerable by the Australian government due to their fragility in the event of habitat loss.