P is for Platypus!
The platypus, picture above by Klaus on Flikr, is one of the most amazing animals on earth. It is a leftover from the Miocene period… when creatures had not split into reptiles, birds and mammals as entirely as they have today.
Consequently it has attributes of all three types of species.
It looks very much like a beaver, and has a very beaver-like tail. Its fur is waterproof and extremely dense, and when they were hunted, the fur could not easily be sewn into clothes, so was usually made into rugs.
It also has an unusual, soft, beak, shaped like a duck’s. This beak is very sensitive to vibration and electrical activity – when the platypus is underwater, hunting, it shuts down its senses of smell, hearing and sight and uses just the beak to sense the electric impulses in the muscles of its prey.
One of the most interesting things about them is that they lay eggs – the only mammal apart from an echidna (a hedgehog-like animal) that does.
Their babies hatch from eggs – but the female platypus feeds them milk. Only she does not have nipples – the milk is secreted through pores in her skin, and the baby platypuses (the word is derived from Greek, not Latin, so the plural should be platypodes, but that sounds silly, so everyone calls plural platypuses, platypuses!) lick the milk from her fur.
The male platypus has a spur, like a little tooth, behind each back foot. It is venomous – it squirts poison and can kill quite large animals, including dogs. It is used during the mating season, when the males become quite aggressive. Humans who have been caught by the spurs report that the pain is intense.
This is a (very) quick poem on platypuses:
If you like unique,
then you are in luck,
this creature’s part beaver
plus bits from a duck –
a beaver-y tail
with webs on its legs,
milk for its babies
which hatch out of eggs.
in its duck-like bill
so it finds its kill.
Most amazing of all,
though till now unseen –
it has mammal and bird
and reptilian genes!*
Poem © Liz Brownlee
*Information from LiveScience
Species Information from PlatypusFacts.
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