The Duck-Billed Platypus (now more commonly known as just 'Platypus') is a semi-aquatic carnivore that lives in underground burrows found by small streams and rivers. It is an excellent swimmer and feeds on annelid worms, insect larvae, freshwater shrimps, and freshwater crayfish that it digs out of the riverbed with its snout, or catches while swimming.

It's habitat is quite diverse ranging from the cold highlands of Tasmania and the Australian Alps, to the tropical rainforests of coastal Queensland. However the Platypus is best known for being one of nature's most bizarre looking creatures.

Duck-Billed Platypus illustration - John Gould (1804–1881)
So strange is its appearance that when a pelt and sketch of a Platypus was sent back to Great Britain by Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales, British scientists' initially believed that it was a hoax.

In fact, 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. It was believed by many that a duck's beak had been sown onto the body of a beaver-like animal. Shaw even took a pair of scissors to the dried skin to check for stitches!

Of course, modern scientists now know that the Platypus is a true animal and a genuine miracle of nature. It is one of only five species of mammals (known as Monotremes) that lay eggs instead of giving birth, it is the sole living representative of its family Ornithorhynchidae, and it is also one of only a few venomous mammals. Strangely, only the male platypus is venomous which it is able to deliver from a spur on the hind foot.

The Platypus bill

Duck-Billed Platypus Bill
The bill of the Platypus is an incredible piece of biological engineering. It is a specialised sensory organ with electroreceptors located in rows just under the skin. Monotremes are the only mammals (apart from at least one species of dolphin) known to have a sense of electroreception. They use it locate their prey in part by detecting electric fields generated by muscular contractions. The platypus' electroreception is the most sensitive of any monotreme.

By using electroreception the platypus can determine the direction of an electric source, which explains the characteristic side-to-side motion of the animal's head while hunting. So sensitive is the platypus' electroreception sense that when it dives for feeding its eyes, ears, and nose are closed.

For related articles click onto the following links:
Duck-Billed Platypus - Amazing Facts

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