The Platypus, (Scientific name - Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a mammal that is found in the Eastern Australian regions. The Platypus is a rather interesting species to study, not only because of its appearance but also because of its behavior. Interestingly, it is the only mammal that produces eggs instead of birthing young ones. The last of the species to survive from the family of Ornithorhynchidae and the genus Ornithorhynchus, its physical appearance has been the reason for varied debates, with many naturalists refusing to believe that a mammal with an appearance like this can truly exist. They believed it to be a fraud and a myth rather than a fact. The appearance of the platypus is rather strange - It has a beak like a duck, a tail like a beaver, feet like an otter and the body full of fur. In addition to the appearance of the platypus evoking curiosity, another factor that lends the platypus a strange aura is the fact that it is capable of spewing venom, something that very few other mammals can do.
Platypus venom is one of the strongest venom that has been discovered and the effect that it has on humans as well as other animals is anything but mild. In the following article we will study a little something more about this particular creature, with more emphasis on the venom, its properties and the effects of the same.
The venom that is delivered by the platypus is found only in the male of the species. The males have spurs that are situated on their hind legs. These spurs will spit out the venom that leads to severe effects on both animals and humans. The venom is produced in the crural glands of the male and then connected to a spur on each hind limb with the help of thin-walled ducts. The female species have similar spurs but they do not develop further and are shed as the female grows. Thus they do not have the capacity to produce venom either. In that way, only the male species have functional spurs that spurt venom. These spurs can be used at a right angle, thereby improving the range of spewing the toxic venom. The venom is made up of varied toxins (19 different ones and more) which have traces of protein as well as non-protein components (OvDLPs, OvCNPs and OvNGF). A unique feature of this venom is that it contains amino acids which are not present in any other mammal.
It has been found that though the platypus produces venom which is similar to the venom produced by reptiles, it does not follow through with the same range of functions that reptilian venom does. Though the venom is used for self defense, the fact that only the male species produce the venom, makes one point clear that self defense is not the primary function of the venom. Studying the trend that the venom level rises in the breeding season, it may be concluded that the venom is used for asserting dominance over other males and in protecting their territory.
The platypus has few predators like snakes and eels and can use the venom to defend itself when faced with danger, but it is not a common phenomenon. The platypus will spew venom on its predator, either animal or human by positioning the spur at a right angle and spewing the venom thus. Other than that, when it comes in contact with the skin of a human or animal, it could drive the rather sharp spur into the tissue and inject the poison in as well. Including a mixture of 19 different toxic samples, the venom is powerful enough to kill small animals, but has not proved to be fatal to humans. Though that does not mean that the venom does not lead to severe reactions and effects in both, humans and animals.
For one, the platypus venom pain that is brought about has been recorded to be excruciating and paralyzing. When it comes in contact with the skin it leads to reddening and swelling and a stabbing burning pain that is known to last for several weeks or even months. The area of the attack usually swells and becomes almost paralyzed. The area continues to sting because of the acidic nature of the venom. Scientists say that this excruciating pain is brought about because the venom directly affects the nerve cells which are responsible for processing pain (nocioceptors), which intensifies the pain further. This pain cannot be treated with painkillers and usually an anti-venom from the platypus is the only known recorded solution. Other than the pain, the venom can also lead to lowering blood pressure levels, causing loss of muscle and increased sensitivity to pain (a condition called hyperalgesia). The pain will start at the site of the wound but will soon spread to the other parts of the body.
Platypus venom has been a subject of study for many years now, in order to know the exact contents of the venom and how it works. Scientists are hoping to prepare an antidote with the help of this venom as well as medication forms that can be used as a cure for the symptom of chronic pain (which forms a part of several diseases).