In this week’s newsletter, we’re going to bring into light the strange ways of the platypus. Mind you, nothing is weird to Evolution, only to us humans. The platypus just happened to gain and keep a peculiar combination of survival tools. In addition, living isolated in Australia meant that it didn’t face the same environmental pressures as other animals in the world. So, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that all the other egg-laying mammals (there are only four others outside of the platypus) also live in Australia.
Half Bird, Half Mammal
When scientists took a look at the platypus’ genetics, they saw that this animal is indeed some weird crossover between bird and mammal. A look at the chromosomes during cell division showed that the platypus has five pairs of chromosomes that determine the sex of the animal. Some of these resemble mammal sex chromosomes, and some looked like bird chromosomes. And on top of it all, the platypus shares a gene with birds on one of these pairs. So perhaps it was the Australian ecosystem that “preserved” the platypus and other egg-laying mammals!
When you think of venom, you probably think about spiders and snakes, not of cute, cuddly bird-mammal creatures. Yet, we’re sorry to say that male platypuses are venomous. They have a spur on their hind foot that produces venom and is very painful for humans. The molecules that make up platypus venom are produced by their immune system and are a cocktail of lytic proteins. If you get stung, you won’t die, but you’ll be in so much pain that you might just become incapacitated. Oh, did we mention that there are plenty of other carnivores and predators in Australia who would love to take a bite (or two) out of humans unable to get up and run?
To find food, platypuses use electrolocation, which is similar to echolocation, except instead of using sound, electrolocation uses electrical impulses. In the case of the platypus, these impulses are produced by their muscles and help them find food in the water. And while this strange mammal might seem bumbling on land, they’re great swimmers. They use their front feet to paddle and their back feet and tail to steer. When hunting, electrolocation is the only way a platypus can find food, since its eyes, ears, and nose are closed underwater.
Get A Platypus!
Wouldn’t it be cool to own a platypus? Unfortunately, these animals are endangered and won’t survive in your backyard pool. Luckily, we carry a platypus skull necklace in our online shop. Some people might say it’s a strange piece, but then again, we are talking about a strange mammal. Purchase this piece for yourself or a friend. It makes an excellent gift for platypus enthusiasts, Australians, zookeepers, and evolutionary biologists.
written by Science with Evie