The platypus is an improbable mishmash of an animal: It has a furry, otterlike body, a ducklike bill and webbed feet, and a beaverlike paddle tail. Like those other animals platypuses swim well and spend much of their time in the water. Unlike otters or beavers, they lay eggs—one of only two mammals known to do so. Male platypuses also have venomous stingers on their rear feet. These animals burrow near the water’s edge and feed by digging underwater for worms, shellfish, and insects.
This is either a miniature thylacine, or a damn giant of a platypus…thylacines ranged from 40-70 lbs (20-30 kg) as adults (they were about the size of a small greyhound, but built more for stamina than speed), and platypuses are considered BIG if they reach 6 lbs (2.6 kg).
Roosevelt’s Thrilling Experiences in the Wilds of Africa Hunting Big Game. Marshall Everett, 1909.*
*No, this scene is not from Africa. It is from an account of another explorer later in the book, who went to Tasmania
Did you know that baby Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) are called “Puggles”, as are the other monotremes, the Echidnas? Also, they hatch out of small eggs laid in a nest in a burrow near a body of fresh water. The milk their mothers feed them does not come from a nipple, it just oozes from small pores in the skin.
(photo: Faye Bedford, Land Learn NSW)
(a baby platypus enjoys breakfast at a zoo in Australia)
Platypus Genome, They Look Strange on the Inside Too
(May 8, 2008)
by John Noble Wilford
If it has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, lays eggs like a bird or a reptile but also produces milk and has a coat of fur like a mammal, what could the genetics of the duck-billed platypus possibly be like? Well, just as peculiar: an amalgam of genes reflecting significant branching and transitions in evolution.
An international scientific team, which announced the first decoding of the platypus genome on Wednesday, said the findings provided “many clues to the function and evolution of all mammalian genomes,” including that of humans, and should “inspire rapid advances in other investigations of mammalian biology and evolution.”
The research is described in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature by a group of almost 100 scientists led by Wesley C. Warren, a geneticist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The single subject of the study was a female platypus named Glennie, a resident of Glenrock Station in New South Wales, Australia, whose DNA was collected and analyzed.
“What is unique about the platypus is that it has retained a large overlap between two very different classifications, while later mammals lost the features of reptiles,” Dr. Warren said in an interview.
In their investigation of the platypus genetic blueprint, the scientists found that its genome contains about 18,500 genes, similar to other vertebrates and about two-thirds the size of the human genome. The platypus shares 82 percent of its genes with the human, mouse, dog, opossum and chicken. Some repeated elements in the genome, the scientists noted, hold hints as to the chronology of changes in the platypus…
(read more: NY Times) (photo: Peter Arnold | BIOS)
Did you know that male Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) have venom spurs on their hind legs, located on the ankles? They use the venom in fights with other platypus over territory and females, as well as in defense. The venom is said to be extremely painful, and it has been shown to kill some animals.
Distressed Platypus, Little Flood Victim in Good Hands
by Brigid O’Connell | Sunday Herald Sun
She is small enough to fit in cupped hands, but this little platypus has endured a mammoth journey since being swept from her burrow in floods this week. The three-month-old baby was found on Tuesday off Raymond Island, in the Gippsland Lakes. Vets at Healesville Sanctuary, who are caring for the infant, believe its mother may have drowned. Weighing just 335g, the unnamed platypus is in a critical condition.
The platypus is one of the few mammals to produce venom. Males have a pair of spurs on their hind limbs. The male’s pair of spurs spits out a cocktail of poisons that, while excruciatingly painful, is not lethal to most animals.
Venom is produced in the crural glands of the male, which are kidney-shaped alveolar glands located in the upper thigh connected by a thin-walled duct to a calcaneus spur on each hind limb. Female platypuses, in common with echidnas, have rudimentary spur buds which do not develop (dropping off before the end of their first year) and lack functional crural glands. The spur is attached to a small bone which allows articulation; the spur can move at a right angle to the limb allowing a greater range of attack than a fixed spur would allow. The spur normally lies flat against the limb but is raised when required.
The crural gland produces a venom secretion containing at least 19 different peptides, in addition to non-protein components…
Abandon any notion that the duck-billed platypus is a soft and cuddly creature — maybe like Perry the Platypus in the Phineas and Ferb cartoon. This platypus, renowned as one of the few mammals that lay eggs, also is one of only a few venomous mammals. The males can deliver a mega-sting that causes immediate, excruciating pain, like hundreds of hornet stings, leaving victims incapacitated for weeks. Now scientists are reporting an advance toward deciphering the chemical composition of the venom, with the first identification of a dozen protein building blocks…
The platypus is a bit like a fruitcake. Shove a bunch of leftover genes in there, mix it up and send it to your relatives see what kind of animal you get.
That’s kind of the approach evolution used when designing this odd creature’s venom; scientists have just determined that the venom contains over 80 different toxins in 13 different classes. The poison can kill small animals, and can leave humans in pain for weeks. The venom is delivered through a barb on the male’s foot–it’s thought that the fellas use the poison during mating season to show dominance.
At least three of the toxins are unique to the platypus and the rest are strikingly similar to proteins from a variety of animals including snakes, lizards, starfish, and sea anemones. It seems that some of these toxins have evolved separately in different animal lineages to perform the same function, a process called convergent evolution…