Earth has many unusual animals. They can be unique in their appearance or they can have unique characteristics. There are some animals who share certain common characteristics, while there are others who show characteristics from different species of animals. One such animal is the duckbill, or duck-billed, platypus. This animal inhabits the deciduous forests of Australia. It is majorly found on the eastern coast of Australia and also in Tasmania. It is often included in the species of echidna.
Uniqueness of Duckbill Platypus
The platypus is the only living species belonging to the family Ornithorhynchidae. Fossils prove that there were many other species belonging to this family. There is a lot of interest in this mammal due to its uniqueness. The uniqueness lies in its appearance, as much as it lies in its dubious traits as a mammal. Let's find out.
The platypus is among the five existing species of monotremes. The word monotreme means 'single hole or opening'. They are mammals, but they do not give birth to live young. They lay eggs. In other words, they belong to the group of rare mammals that lay eggs. They display all the other mammalian characteristics, though.
Apart from mode of birth, the uniqueness of this Australian animal is also in its appearance. Their size can be compared with the size of a house cat. Apart from their bill and their feet, their entire body is covered with hair. The back has dark brown hair, while the stomach has lighter hair. One of the many weird characteristics of the platypus is that the tail is made up of fatty tissues. The tail is similar to that of a beaver's tail. It has a streamlined body and it is flat as well. Its webbed feet have an uncanny resemblance to the feet of a duck. It has fully webbed feet in front, while the hind feet are partially webbed. However, the feet of a duckbill platypus have nails, which are used for digging.
There are hollow spurs on the ankles of the male duckbill platypuses, which contain venom. The male species use them for self protection. Another physical trait which they share with ducks is their bill. The bill is long, covered with skin, leathery, and shaped like the bill of a duck. The bill has a number of nerves, which also makes it sensitive. The nostrils are located on the bill. The beauty of the nostrils is that the platypus can close them when it is underwater.
Exactly behind the bill are the eyes. The ears are in the form of slits, and are seen behind the eyes. The weight of this weird creature can vary between one to five pounds. The length of this monotreme can be anywhere between twenty-six inches to thirty-nine inches.
Platypuses are found in rivers in eastern Australia and Tasmania. Their habitat is always near water. They are known to make their nests in tunnels as much as 50 feet long on the side of the riverbanks. They will make nests in deep crevices and even small caves in rocky banks. They are only seen on land around the breeding season.
Till they are two years of age, they do not reach sexual maturity. The mating season is between the months of September and October, the Southern spring. Normally a female will make burrows or tunnels, where she would be able to lay the eggs. Often the nest is lined with leaves and grass. Approximately two weeks after mating, the female will return to the burrow. Soil is used to close the burrow. The female can lay anywhere between 1 to 3 eggs at a time. The mother curls herself around the eggs and incubates the eggs like birds. It takes 10 days for the young ones to hatch.
These mammals are basically carnivores, but they do not have teeth. Instead, their mouths are equipped with grinding pads, which are used to mash food before it is swallowed. They are seen feeding once early in the morning and once in the evening. Normally frogs, tadpoles, fish, larvae, and shrimp is their preferred food. Platypuses often go down to the river bottom and find food by wiggling its bill in the sand and mud at the bottom of the river. They do not use their ears and eyes while hunting.
Till recently, the duckbill platypus was hunted for its fur and the species neared extinction. However, they are now protected under the National Parks Wildlife Act of 1974. The population of these weird mammals is now steadily growing back. However, with the destruction of their habitats, they may come close to extinction again. Therefore, conservation measures need to be taken.