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What is a platypus?

The platypus is a remarkable mammal found only in Australia.

the platypus

Sometimes known as a duck-billed platypus, this curious mammal combines the characteristics of many different species in one.

The platypus is a duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed, egg-laying aquatic creature native to Australia. If its appearance alone somehow fails to impress, the male of the species is also one of the world’s few venomous mammals! Equipped with sharp stingers on the heels of its hind feet, the male platypus can deliver a strong toxic blow to any approaching foe.

While the platypus generally inhabits freshwater rivers, wetlands, and billabongs Down Under, it is also known to venture into brackish estuaries (the combined fresh-and saltwater areas where rivers meet the sea).

The platypus is a bottom-feeder that uses its beaver-like tail to steer and its webbed feet to propel itself through the water while hunting for insects, shellfish, and worms. The watertight nostrils on its bill remain sealed so that the animal can stay submerged for up to two minutes as it forages for food. The bill also comes equipped with specialized nerve endings, called electroreceptors, which detect tiny electrical currents generated by the muscular contractions of prey. It has no teeth, so the platypus stores its "catch" in its cheek pouches, returns to the surface, mashes up its meal with the help of gravel bits hoovered up enroute, then swallows it all down.

The female platypus lays her eggs in an underground burrow that she digs near the water’s edge. Baby platypuses hatch after 10 days and nurse for up to four months before they swim off and forage on their own.

The Commonwealth of Australia reveres this remarkable mammal so much that it honors the platypus with a place on its 20-cent coin.

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There is only one other egg-laying mammal in the world. The echidna, a distant cousin of the anteater, also lays eggs and is found in Australia and New Guinea. Both the platypus and the echnida are monotremes, meaning that they lay eggs and have a single opening (cloaca) for reproduction and elimination of wastes.

Last updated: 01/20/23
Author: NOAA
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