|Conservation status||Least concern|
The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is an aquatic mammal found in eastern Australia and Tasmania, and one of five species in a distinct subclass named Prototheria, the egg-laying mammals. It has a bill similar in shape to a duck, which is very pliable, and also has webbed feet. Like all mammals it has fur and suckles its young. The platypus can find its prey in water due to its ability to detect electric fields produced by muscular contractions. The male platypus has a spur on its hindfoot which can deliver venom - a feature which very few mammals possess. It has no visible ears.
An excellent swimmer, the platypus spends much of its time foraging for food in water. It swims with an alternating left-to-right paddling of its front feet. Despite all four of its feet being webbed, its hindfeet remain held against its body, instead being used for steering (along with its tail) rather than propulsion.
The platypus (and its fellow monotreme the echidna) was believed to have evolved in isolation 225 million years ago when the land mass that would become Australia (Gondwana) broke away from the other continents. This idea of evolution in isolation followed the theory of Charles Darwin, whose affinity for evolution may also have been influenced by his early studies of the platypus during his time on The Beagle.
However, the isolation theory was overturned when, in the early 1990s, three platypus teeth were discovered in South America - virtually identical to fossil platypus teeth found in Australia. (Marsupials, too, were once considered to be exclusive to Australia, but their fossils have now been found on every continent). Modern adult platypuses do not have teeth, but the discovery of platypus fossils in Australia had already identified that their ancestors did indeed have unique and distinctive teeth.
The platypus is featured on the Australian 20 cent coin.
The strangeness of this animal is sometimes used as evidence that God did have a good sense of humor. The anatomy of the platypus is a problem for evolutionists, because its bill clearly adheres to the same design as that of the duck, suggesting a common creator.
The platypus is currently listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List of endangered species; however, the actual number of living individuals in the wild is unknown. The species is dependent on slow-moving streams and shallow-water lakes and ponds, areas which have been disrupted by tropical cyclones over there northern range. In addition, man has made inroads into their habitat and altering areas via poor land management, such as excess sedimentation from farm run-off and forestry. Traps meant for fish have also drowned platypus, which has the adverse impact of affecting small populations of these animals in critical areas.
Apart from man, the chief predator is the introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes), which scavenges unattended nesting holes for eggs.