Considered as one of the most unusual creatures in the animal kingdom, the Platypus, also known as the Duck-Billed Platypus, is a small semi-aquatic mammal indigenous to the eastern coast of Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it belongs to a small group of mammals called monotremes that are known to lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. However, although possessing mammary glands, the platypuses lack teats. Instead, the mother platypus starts secreting milk through the pores in her skin and the young suckle the milk storage covered by fur on the mother’s abdomen.
The platypus is a duck-billed, beaver-tailed and otter-footed small animal with a streamlined body. Total length of the males is around 12 inches, while the females are around 17 inches. Its short body and flat tail are covered with short and dense, waterproof fur that provides excellent thermal insulation and varies in colour from dark brown on their back to a lighter shade of brown or silver underside and a plum coloured middle. While their partially webbed hind feet and the broad, flat beaver-like tail are used to act as rudders, the fully webbed front feet help the platypus to propel through the water and can also be turned back when on land, exposing their large nails to aid them when walking or burrowing into the river banks. The fat and flat tail is also used for the storage of fat reserves.
The Platypuses are one of the few venomous mammals, as their males are equipped with a horny spur on each of their hind-leg ankles, connected to a venom gland, which they use while fighting away the rivals during the mating season.
However, the most distinctive and unusual feature of the platypus is its watertight nostril on its bill that looks like the beak of a duck. The bill is soft and pliable and covered in a multitude of sensory receptors, which help the animal to detect the small electrical signals emitted from their prey. The touch-sensitive bills are also used to probe the mud on the riverbed for the small insect larvae which are their most common food.
The Platypus is a solitary and normally a nocturnal animal that prefers to stay near freshwater systems with suitable banks for burrowing in and a permanent source of water. As semi-aquatic animals, they possess the best physical characteristics for dealing with life, both in and out of the water and the insulation of their dense fur help them to keep their body warmth even in the coldest of water. The platypus is a good swimmer and likes to spend much of its time in the water foraging for food. When diving down to the river bed, they close their eyes, ears and nostrils and solely rely on the small sensory receptors of their bills to find food, which can correctly detect even the slightest electrical signals created by the movement of creatures in the water. Their diet mostly comprised of bottom-dwelling aquatic creatures like insects, tadpoles, snails, shrimps and small fishes. Normally, their dives last around 30 seconds, which sometimes extended for another 10 seconds and commonly take a break for 10 to 20 seconds before the next dive. At the time of hunting, the Platypus stores food in cheek pouches located on the sides of the mouth, which it grounds up using the horny ridges, while it rests on the water surface. After hunting the platypuses sleep around 14 hours during the day in their resting burrows, which are around 5 meters in length.
Except during mating, the male and the female platypuses avoid each other. Mating occurs between June and October. However, the males initiate mating interactions in winter, when the water is still cold. Courtship includes aquatic activities, which last from less than a minute to over half an hour and is usually repeated over several days. The mating also takes place in water, which is a strenuous affair and in one particular recorded session the male was seen tightly grasping the tail of the female with his bill as she led him on an exhaustive chase.
After mating, the males take no part in caring for its young and retreat to their year-long burrows, while the pregnant females carry bundles of wet leaves to their incubation chamber at the end of their burrow and plug the tunnel with soil. After a gestation period of around two and three weeks, they lay between one and three small, small, soft and leathery spherical eggs, which the females curl around. At the end of the incubation period of around 10 days, the young hatch out in a very vulnerable state, in the size of lima beans, blind, hairless and are nursed by their mother in the incubation chamber for up to 5 months. At around four months, the young emerge from the burrow, but become fully grown between ages 12 and 18 months. They become sexually mature at about age 18 months.
As a small mammal, the platypus has a long life. They tend to live for around 10 years in the wild, while they can survive for nearly 23 years in captivity.