Let’s see: Ancient, egg-laying, poisonous, web-footed, beaver-tailed and duck-billed. It’s got to be the Platypus, and it’s got to be one of the strangest animals on earth. Here’s a bit of a closer look.
The bizarre appearance of this egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate fraud. It is one of the few venomous mammals, the male platypus having a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans.
“When the platypus was first encountered by Europeans in 1798, a pelt and sketch were sent back to Great Britain by Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales. British scientists’ initial hunch was that the attributes were a hoax. George Shaw, who produced the first description of the animal in the Naturalist’s Miscellany in 1799, stated it was impossible not to entertain doubts as to its genuine nature, and Robert Knox believed it might have been produced by some Asian taxidermist. It was thought that somebody had sewn a duck’s beak onto the body of a beaver-like animal. Shaw even took a pair of scissors to the dried skin to check for stitches.”
The newly hatched young are vulnerable, blind, and hairless, and are fed by the mother’s milk. Although possessing mammary glands, the platypus lacks teats. Instead, milk is released through pores in the skin. There are grooves on her abdomen in which the milk pools, allowing the young to lap it up. (Um…whoa!)
While both male and female platypuses are born with ankle spurs, only the male has spurs which produce a cocktail of venom,composed largely of defensin-like proteins (DLPs), three of which are unique to the platypus. The defensin proteins are produced by the immune system of the platypus. Although powerful enough to kill smaller animals such as dogs, the venom is not lethal to humans, but is so excruciating that the victim may be incapacitated.
The Platypus is one of only a handful of monotremes. Monotremes are the only mammals known to have a sense of electroreception: they locate their prey in part by detecting electric fields generated by muscular contractions. The platypus’ electroreception is the most sensitive of any monotreme.
Existing only in Australia and Tasmania, the Platypus has risen in stature to become a mascot at sporting events, and even lives on Australian currency.
Thank you for your weirdness, Platypus. You make this world a little more interesting.