Thursday, November 11, 2010

Duckbill Platypus

Oh Monotremes. You are so amazingly, incredibly bizarre. And as weird as the Echidna was, it's got nothing on the Platypus, a mammal so darn weird that British Naturalists actually believed it was a hoax stitched together by Chinese sailors. And you know what? I really don't blame them. How would you react to a weird, otter-like creature with webbed flippers, a beaver tail and a bird-like bill?

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Platypuses (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) are one of a kind, the only living members of the Monotreme suborder Platypoda. Other, now-extinct Platypuses exist in the fossil record as far back at 60 million years. (The first known Monotremes, while we're on this topic, are thought to have diverged from other mammals over 160 million years ago.) They are found exclusively in Australia, along the eastern edge of the continent and on the island of Tasmania.

All of the Platypus's features serve a purpose. Their bill is actually one long snout full of sensory organs used to locate and scoop up food underwater. The webbed feet assist in swimming, digging, and paddling, and their dense fur serves as insulation. The tail also helps in swimming, and provides fat-storage. Adult Platypuses do not have teeth, and they will collect gravel to help chew food, which primarily consists of insects and crustaceans.

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Like all Monotremes, Platypuses lay eggs. Two are typically laid at a time, and are insulted below the mother's tail. At birth the young Platypus is tiny and helpless, and will be cared for for several months.

On top of laying eggs and looking weird, the Platypus is toxic! Males have venom-injecting spurs on their rear feet. It is believed that this venom is significant during mating periods.

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