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Platypus [Extra Quality]

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus),[3] sometimes referred to as the duck-billed platypus,[4] is a semiaquatic, egg-laying mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. The platypus is the sole living representative or monotypic taxon of its family (Ornithorhynchidae) and genus (Ornithorhynchus), though a number of related species appear in the fossil record.


Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. Like other monotremes, it senses prey through electrolocation. It is one of the few species of venomous mammals, as the male platypus has a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom, capable of causing severe pain to humans. The unusual appearance of this egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, and the first scientists to examine a preserved platypus body (in 1799) judged it a fake, made of several animals sewn together.

The unique features of the platypus make it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology, and a recognisable and iconic symbol of Australia. It is culturally significant to several Aboriginal peoples of Australia, who also used to hunt the animal for food. It has appeared as a mascot at national events and features on the reverse of the Australian twenty-cent coin, and the platypus is the animal emblem of the state of New South Wales. Until the early 20th century, humans hunted the platypus for its fur, but it is now protected throughout its range. Although captive-breeding programs have had only limited success, and the platypus is vulnerable to the effects of pollution, it is not under any immediate threat.

As of 2020[update], the platypus is a legally protected species in all states where it occurs. It is listed as an endangered species in South Australia and vulnerable in Victoria. The species is classified as a near-threatened species by the IUCN, but a November 2020 report has recommended that it is upgraded to threatened species under the federal EPBC Act, due to habitat destruction and declining numbers in all states.

When the platypus was first encountered by Europeans in 1798, a pelt and sketch were sent back to Great Britain by Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales.[5] British scientists' initial hunch was that the attributes were a hoax.[6] 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,[7] and Robert Knox believed it might have been produced by some Asian taxidermist.[6] It was thought that somebody had sewn a duck's beak onto the body of a beaver-like animal. Shaw even took a pair of scissors to the dried skin to check for stitches.[8][7]

There is no universally-agreed plural form of "platypus" in the English language. Scientists generally use "platypuses" or simply "platypus". Colloquially, the term "platypi" is also used for the plural, although this is a form of pseudo-Latin;[8] going by the word's Greek roots the plural would be "platypodes". Early British settlers called it by many names, such as "watermole", "duckbill", and "duckmole".[8] Occasionally it is specifically called the "duck-billed platypus".

The scientific name Ornithorhynchus anatinus literally means 'duck-like bird-snout',[13] deriving its genus name from the Greek root ornith- (όρνιθ ornith or ὄρνις órnīs 'bird')[16] and the word rhúnkhos (ῥύγχος 'snout', 'beak').[17] Its species name is derived from Latin anatinus ('duck-like') from anas 'duck'.[13][18] The platypus is the sole living representative or monotypic taxon of its family (Ornithorhynchidae).[19]

The body and the broad, flat tail of the platypus are covered with dense, brown, biofluorescent fur that traps a layer of insulating air to keep the animal warm.[8][14][21] The fur is waterproof, and the texture is akin to that of a mole.[22] The platypus uses its tail for storage of fat reserves (an adaptation also found in animals such as the Tasmanian devil[23]). The webbing on the feet is more significant on the front feet and is folded back when walking on land. The elongated snout and lower jaw are covered in soft skin, forming the bill. The nostrils are located on the dorsal surface of the snout, while the eyes and ears are located in a groove set just back from it; this groove is closed when swimming.[14] Platypuses have been heard to emit a low growl when disturbed and a range of other vocalisations have been reported in captive specimens.[8]

The platypus has an average body temperature of about 32 C (90 F) rather than the 37 C (99 F) typical of placental mammals.[25] Research suggests this has been a gradual adaptation to harsh environmental conditions on the part of the small number of surviving monotreme species rather than a historical characteristic of monotremes.[26][27]

Modern platypus young have three teeth in each of the maxillae (one premolar and two molars) and dentaries (three molars), which they lose before or just after leaving the breeding burrow;[14] adults have heavily keratinised pads called ceratodontes in their place, which they use to grind food.[14][28][29] The first upper and third lower cheek teeth of platypus nestlings are small, each having one principal cusp, while the other teeth have two main cusps.[30] The platypus jaw is constructed differently from that of other mammals, and the jaw-opening muscle is different.[14] As in all true mammals, the tiny bones that conduct sound in the middle ear are fully incorporated into the skull, rather than lying in the jaw as in pre mammalian synapsids. However, the external opening of the ear still lies at the base of the jaw.[14] The platypus has extra bones in the shoulder girdle, including an interclavicle, which is not found in other mammals.[14] As in many other aquatic and semiaquatic vertebrates, the bones show osteosclerosis, increasing their density to provide ballast.[31] It has a reptilian gait, with the legs on the sides of the body, rather than underneath.[14] When on land, it engages in knuckle-walking on its front feet, to protect the webbing between the toes.[32]

While both male and female platypuses are born with ankle spurs, only the spurs on the male's back ankles deliver venom,[33][34][35]composed largely of defensin-like proteins (DLPs), three of which are unique to the platypus.[36] The DLPs are produced by the immune system of the platypus. The function of defensins is to cause lysis in pathogenic bacteria and viruses, but in platypuses they also are formed into venom for defence. Although powerful enough to kill smaller animals such as dogs, the venom is not lethal to humans, but the pain is so excruciating that the victim may be incapacitated.[36][37] Oedema rapidly develops around the wound and gradually spreads throughout the affected limb. Information obtained from case histories and anecdotal evidence indicates the pain develops into a long-lasting hyperalgesia (a heightened sensitivity to pain) that persists for days or even months.[38][39] Venom is produced in the crural glands of the male, which are kidney-shaped alveolar glands connected by a thin-walled duct to a calcaneus spur on each hind limb. The female platypus, in common with echidnas, has rudimentary spur buds that do not develop (dropping off before the end of their first year) and lack functional crural glands.[14]

Monotremes are the only mammals (apart from at least one species of dolphin-- the Guiana Dolphin)[42] known to have a sense of electroreception: they locate their prey in part by detecting electric fields generated by muscular contractions. The platypus's electroreception is the most sensitive of any monotreme.[43][41]

The electroreceptors are located in rostrocaudal rows in the skin of the bill, while mechanoreceptors (which detect touch) are uniformly distributed across the bill. The electrosensory area of the cerebral cortex is contained within the tactile somatosensory area, and some cortical cells receive input from both electroreceptors and mechanoreceptors, suggesting a close association between the tactile and electric senses. Both electroreceptors and mechanoreceptors in the bill dominate the somatotopic map of the platypus brain, in the same way human hands dominate the Penfield homunculus map.[44][45]

The platypus can determine the direction of an electric source, perhaps by comparing differences in signal strength across the sheet of electroreceptors. This would explain the characteristic side-to-side motion of the animal's head while hunting. The cortical convergence of electrosensory and tactile inputs suggests a mechanism that determines the distance of prey that, when they move, emit both electrical signals and mechanical pressure pulses. The platypus uses the difference between arrival times of the two signals to sense distance.[41]

Feeding by neither sight nor smell,[46] the platypus closes its eyes, ears, and nose each time it dives.[47] Rather, when it digs in the bottom of streams with its bill, its electroreceptors detect tiny electric currents generated by muscular contractions of its prey, so enabling it to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects, which continuously stimulate its mechanoreceptors.[41] Experiments have shown the platypus will even react to an "artificial shrimp" if a small electric current is passed through it.[48]

Monotreme electrolocation probably evolved in order to allow the animals to forage in murky waters, and may be tied to their tooth loss.[49] The extinct Obdurodon was electroreceptive, but unlike the modern platypus it foraged pelagically (near the ocean surface).[49]

In recent studies it has been suggested that the eyes of the platypus are more similar to those of Pacific hagfish or Northern Hemisphere lampreys than to those of most tetrapods. The eyes also contain double cones, which most mammals do not have.[50] 041b061a72


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